Coronavirus and child contact update – easing of lockdown
LAST UPDATED: 15.06.2020
During the pandemic, many parents have been struggling with decisions about child arrangements. We published guidance for women who were unsure what to do during lockdown which is still available on our website here.
As the lockdown eases and Government announces changes to social distancing guidance, arrangements in relation to children will be changing too. we have found it impossible to prepare guidance that covers every possible scenario, especially as the guidance across England and Wales is different depending on where you live. It will be made a lot more complicated if different parts of the country are expected to return to stricter measures in the future.
We have tried to set out some rough guidance below but have also left our previous guidance online in case your area is in lockdown again in the future.
Everyone must follow the Government guidance. As the situation changes so does the guidance. As a result, you will need to keep up to date with the current Government guidance and make sure you are complying with it.
The guidance for England can be found here.
The guidance for Wales can be found here.
The legal information we provide covers England and Wales only. However, if your child’s other parent lives in another part of the UK, you will want to read the guidance for that nation. The guidance for Scotland can be found here and for Northern Ireland, here.
We set out in our guidance about child arrangements under lockdown that whether or not there is a court order in place, if it was safe for contact to continue, it should.
If you have made changes to the child arrangements whether of not you had the other parent’s agreement, you need to keep these under review and it may be the time to restart contact or have it go back to what it was before lockdown, depending on the way in which it has changed.
If you have not reviewed the arrangements with the other parent, you should start to think about doing this. For many people, the easing of lockdown is a scary prospect while the virus is still present in the community. However, the guidance from Government is that for most people, the risk can be managed by ensuring we follow the social distancing measures.
Write to the other parent to set out what changes you propose and why. If you are suggesting a change to contact that is not a return to the same contact as before lockdown, you should explain that as with the previous changes, this will have to be reviewed as the guidance changes in the future.
If it is possible for contact to return to the arrangements before lockdown and still comply with the guidance, this is what should happen.
The changes to the guidance may mean that contact can restart but that it cannot go back to the way it was before lockdown. If this is the case, think about what contact could take place that is in line with the new guidance. Write to the other parent suggesting the changes you think are safe and the reason why. Explain that this will have to be reviewed again as the guidance changes.
For some people, especially those who are shielding, it may not be possible for contact to restart at all but consideration should be given to whether it is possible for the other parent to meet the child outdoors for some face to face contact while following social distancing measures.
If you or someone in your household develops symptoms of coronavirus, the person with symptoms must self-isolate for at least 7 days. Everyone in the household must self-isolate for at least 14 days, even if they have not developed symptoms.
It is now possible to get a test for coronavirus. The person with symptoms should request a test online here. Not everyone will get a test, it will depend on how many are available at the time.
Be aware that just because the person with symptoms has tested negative for coronavirus, does not mean the self-isolation should end straight away. See the guidance on test results here.
Children should not be travelling for contact, going to school or other childcare during the period of self-isolation.
Read the timescales carefully. They start from the day the first person in the household developed symptoms. However, if that person still has certain symptoms at the end of the period, they need to continue to self-isolate. The timings vary if another member of the household develops symptoms during the 14 day period. Read the guidance here.
If you are unsure about timescales, you can contact the NHS on 111.
What if you are contacted by the NHS to say you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus?
Then you must self-isolate for 14 days.
Other members of your household do not need to self-isolate as long as you do not develop symptoms. In this case, contact can continue provided you do not have to leave the home to facilitate handover. If possible, you could ask a family member or friend to facilitate handover. If it is safe, you could suggest that the other parent collects the child from your home. If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, then you and your household must follow the guidance for people who have developed symptoms.
In our guidance on contact during lockdown, we explained parents’ obligations under child arrangements and possible consequences of breaching an order. We recommend reading those sections of our guidance here.
Many of the issues explained in that guidance will remain the same depending on your individual circumstances. Read our guidance and think about whether those situations apply to your case.
In relation to the court’s approach to breaches of a child arrangements order, the court will expect parents to keep any changes to contact under review and to resume contact arrangements as soon as it is safe to do so in line with the Government guidance. The court may be asked to decide whether you had a reasonable excuse for breaching the order. They will refer to the Government guidance to decide this.
Having support to help deal with the court process is important. We can help you work out if you are eligible for legal aid and give family law advice on our family law advice line. You can also contact FLOWS to get family law advice.
It might be difficult to get face to face support at the moment but domestic abuse support services are working hard to make sure they can still offer support.
Many support services will have experience of supporting women in the family court. If you have a support worker, speak to them about the hearing. Ask to have a conversation with them before and after the hearing. They might already know what the family courts in your area are doing and be able to help you speak to the court. Contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 to find out what support you can get.