Child arrangements and Covid-19: what lockdown means for separated families

Over the last couple of weeks, I have many clients getting in touch with concerns regarding the arrangements for their children in the current climate. The fight against Covid-19 has seen the Government bring in unprecedented measures which are having serious implications on our ability to live our normal lives and are disrupting family arrangements and our children’s sense of wellbeing and certainty.

Last week, clients were asking what exactly did social distancing and self-isolation mean for separated parents whose children spend time in two separate homes? Now, we are in “lockdown”, separated parents are becoming increasingly concerned about what this means for existing child arrangements?

The Government is clear in its guidance.  People should only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

The guidance confirms: where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

This will come as a welcome relief to many people who have worried that the Government will limit their ability to see their children.

Many parents contacting us are concerned that they may be breaking court orders if they and their children need to self-isolate at home, which will mean that they cannot spend time with their other parent during this period.  Others are concerned that the current situation is being used to flout arrangements, whether agreed informally between parents, or ordered by a court.

Practical considerations

Children’s safety and welfare is the primary concern for parents, and also for the court, if asked to intervene.  This is both in terms of the risk of infection from Covid-19 and ensuring that they are safe, whoever they are spending time with.

Advice from Cafcass is clear, in that wherever possible, parents should stick to agreed child arrangements. Parents will need to give thought as to how this can work for their family, whilst ensuring everyone’s safety and helping to limit the spread of Covid-19.

If there was any moment for you to reach out an olive branch to your co-parent, now is the time.  We are living through times not seen since WW2 and which we all hope we will never see again in our lifetime.  This brings into sharp focus what is important, and top of the list are family and health.

Remember, your child’s other parent is also their family and so helping them to reinforce that relationship is now more important than ever.

Parents should talk to each other sensibly about how lockdown and self-isolation are to work for their family and to make sure that this is followed by each household.

Where children are being home-schooled, parents will need to discuss how this is to work, to ensure that there isn’t a duplication of work, there is consistency for the children and a similar approach in both homes. Perhaps it may work for one parent will be in charge of home-schooling.

If you are travelling between homes with your children to stick to agreed arrangements, if possible avoid public transport and minimise the risk of coming into contact with people.  Clean your hands regularly and avoid spreading germs through contact with different surfaces.

Sticking to arrangements clearly becomes difficult where households are having to self-isolate.  If this happens, it is important to discuss how contact with the children’s other parent will be maintained.  If the children are well enough, lots of FaceTime, Skype or other video contact will be beneficial.  Think of other creative ways to maintain contact at a distance – online games could be another example.   If you live near each other, the non-isolating parent could drop supplies to the other. Now is a time to really pull together if you can do so.

If children end up spending less time with one parent than they usually do, because someone is self-isolating, it may be appropriate to make up time afterwards – something else for sensible discussion between parents.  Now is not the time for parents to be holding out for every minute of “lost time” to be replaced – common sense and understanding both need to prevail.

Do not see the current situation as an opportunity to manipulate agreed arrangements or a court order.  This is unlikely to do you any favours in the eyes of the court in the long run and in reality will be more damaging for the children, who will be worried and anxious enough with their lives and routines having been abruptly turned upside down.

If you or a contact are worried about the current situation and impact on children’s arrangements, please do not hesitate to get in touch for some advice and guidance.

The Government’s full guidance on staying at home and away for others, as at the time of writing can be found here.

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