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The current health pandemic has caused difficulties for all families, not least separated families. Children have been away from school and their usual routines for several months now and in some cases this has also meant being away from the parent they do not usually live with.
While some families have decided, in line with government advice, to continue to allow children to travel from one home to the other others have been more cautious meaning children have not seen one side of their family for several months.
We have set out below some issues that we have advised upon during the past 3 months of lockdown:
Q. We have a Child Arrangements Order/agreement in place stating that our child is to spend alternate weekends with their father who lives an hour away. Can I travel to drop the child off?
A. Yes, the Government advice was initially a little unclear but it was clarified that leaving your home for the purposes of dropping off/collecting your child before/after they had spent time with the other parent was an acceptable reason.
Q. We have a Child Arrangements Order/agreement in place providing that during term times our child spends alternate weekends with their Father but that during school holidays/ non-term time the time is shared equally between us. What do we do now that the schools are closed, is this still considered term time?
A. Parents are free to agree any alternative arrangements during this time and as parents you may know better than the court or us lawyers what will work best for your family. If a dispute arises each case will have to be considered with the families' circumstances in mind. We have generally advised that the usual term time pattern should continue, as technically it is still term time and most children have had school work to complete on a daily basis. Also, in these times of uncertainty, any efforts to keep up their usual routine may be in the best interest of your child.
Q. My child has underlying health issues and has been advised by the government that she should be shielding, the child's Mother has been allowing my child to come into contact with 3rd parties outside of our household and inviting people into their home. How can I stop this and protect my child?
In the event that the arrangements for contact are varied by agreement or by one parent acting unilaterally you are expected to provide alternative arrangements to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by FaceTime, WhatsApp video calling, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
In summary, if a court order is in place and it is possible to safely comply with the order, do so. However, if it is not safe to continue the order in line with the government guidance for the current Lockdown, you should follow the additional government guidance.
Q. Our child is of year 1 school age and lives with me, the mother, during the week. I am intending on sending her back to school in line with the government advice. However, the child's father does not agree and believes they child should not return to school until the new school year commences in September. What should I do?
A. Again, this is something that has cropped up recently following the governments plans to return all reception, year 1 and year 6 aged children to school from the 1st June 2020. Many parents have agreed that this is too soon for them and have therefore not returned their child to school and it seems the government have accepted the parent's decision and are not criticising or punishing parents who make this choice. Where there is one parent wanting to return the child to school and one that does not want to an inevitable conflict will arise. If a dispute arises each case will have to be considered with that particular family circumstances in mind.
We have advised that whether to send your child to school or not is a matter for each parent exercising their own Parental Responsibility, so for example, if the child lives with both parents during different week days that parent may decide to send the child to school on the days that they are in their care. However, when the child is in the care of the other parent they may decide to keep them home. If parents really can not agree then again a court application can be made but time is of course of the essence and given how busy the courts have been and the pressures they have had to overcome it remains unclear if these applications will get to hearing before the school term ends in July.
If you have any queries or wish to seek advice on your circumstances please contact a member of the Family Team at Pinney Talfourd.
This article was written by Jennifer Herbert, Senior Associate in the Family Law team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of June 2020.