COVID-19 and your Child Arrangements Order

The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact those across the world. The British Government has formally issued social distancing measures in order to reduce social interaction between people in order to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. The Government has introduced three new measures:

  1. Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes;
  2. Closing non-essential shops and community spaces; and
  3. Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.

The Government has confirmed that every citizen must comply with these new measures and in ensuring they do so, the Government has granted the relevant authorities’ powers of enforcement.

A question arising from these measures is the impact that this may have on your Child Arrangements Order, especially for a non-resident parent. A Child Arrangements Order regulates with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with.

This is an extremely uncertain and tumultuous time as such it will be necessary for separated parents to act in a cooperative and sensible manner. The health and well-being of the children should be at the forefront of any parent’s mind and contact arrangements should be agreed in order to best ensure the safety of the children.

The Government has confirmed that notwithstanding the measures above, where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. However, this will be determined on a case by case basis. Parents should exercise common sense and be mindful of any medical advice they may receive. They should also ensure that careful consideration is given to the Government’s guidance regarding those circumstances where individuals should ‘self-isolate’ and/or households should ‘self-isolate’.

Of course, there may be cases where there is a high level of dispute between parents and a mutual agreement is unlikely to be reached. In these cases, if one parent does not comply with the terms of a Child Arrangements Order it is likely that they will be in breach and subsequently face enforcement proceedings.

If one parent does not comply with the terms of a Child Arrangements Order as a result of the Government’s newly implemented measures regarding COVID-19, will that parent be penalised? The court will not make an enforcement order if it is satisfied that a person has a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the provision of a Child Arrangements Order. The burden lies on the parent claiming to have had a reasonable excuse.

The answer will therefore depend upon whether the parent who is in breach of the Child Arrangement Order can persuade a court that they had a “reasonable excuse” for doing so. This is a discrete issue and is likely to vary on a case by case basis.

If you need any advice regarding the impact that COVID-19 and the recent Government measures may have on your Child Arrangements Order, or advice regarding Child Arrangements Orders generally, please contact us in order to arrange an initial consultation with one of our experienced and specialist solicitors.