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As Christmas approaches separated or divorced parents often find the subject of contact with their children over Christmas challenging to resolve. In a pandemic, the question of balancing the welfare of the children and the restrictions imposed by government becomes even more difficult and confusing.
Current government guidance on spending time with your children
Children under 18 can be moved between separated parents' homes. It does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The child's parents must make this decision after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child's present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. A conciliatory approach evidenced in writing/text messages is going to be in the best interest of the child overall and safety should always come first.
If parents cannot agree to vary the arrangements either in an order or in an informal agreement then one parent can unilaterally vary the arrangement if they believe that to comply with the order/informal agreement would be against public health advice putting them and the child at risk. Certainly, if a court order is breached and there is a dispute later in court about this, then the court could assess if the parent acted reasonably and sensibly given the guidance and the circumstances of the case.
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.
Contact during Christmas
Given the above guidance spending time with children over the Christmas period will be tough. Therefore, we set out a guide of how best to approach the holidays:
This article was written by Kiren Dhillon, Senior Associate in the Family 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 November 2020.