This blog was originally published on 20 March 2020. As the situation keeps evolving, we have updated our advice.
The government has now put in place measures to ensure people observe social distance restrictions and self-isolation; the schools in the UK have closed and we, as family lawyers, are being asked how to best manage child arrangement orders and co-parenting during this unprecedented pandemic. Below are some common questions that we are being asked with a response which we hope you will find helpful:
If I have a court hearing due in this period will the Court be open?
Yes. The Court are trying to find alternatives to face-to-face hearings and it is likely that the hearing will take place either via telephone or a video call. The courts are in the process of making alternative arrangements and there will be more information on this in the coming few days.
What If there is a child arrangement order currently in place?
If there is a child arrangement order in place regulating where the children live and how they spend time with the other parent, this order will remain in place and there would be consequences if it is breached. However, parents are being asked to use their common sense at this difficult and uncertain time. If a child’s welfare dictates that the arrangements should change then parents should try to communicate and make the judgement call together. It is hoped that parents will work together in this time of public health emergency. A parent should not use the emergency as an excuse to alter their parenting arrangements.
In accordance with current government guidance, where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
Parents should as much as possible, communicate about the practicalities of contact arrangements. So, if for example, handovers take place in a public place or at school or through grandparents then parents can consider using one of their homes as a temporary measure.
What if a parent or someone in their household has symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus?
Whether there is a child arrangement order in place or not, it is safe to assume that it is in the best interests of the health of the children not to see the parent during the current 14 days self-isolation period. Medical information may change in relation to the self-isolation period and you should always refer to the NHS website for the latest medical information.
What if the children are with one parent while someone in that household falls ill, and they need to self-isolate?
The government’s current advice is that those who are living with someone who has coronavirus should self-isolate for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms. Whilst this may mean that there is a breach of a child arrangements order, the sensible way forward would be for the child to stay with the parent who has fallen ill until the period of self-isolation has passed. A parent in this situation should communicate with the other parent regularly and arrange facetime or Skype to ensure that there is daily communication/contact between the absent parent and the child. It would also be incumbent upon the parent with whom the child is with to provide the absent parent with updates in relation to the child should that child subsequently fall poorly.
What should I do if I cannot afford to pay child maintenance or spousal maintenance as I am unable to work?
It is advisable that you inform your partner that you are struggling, and you should be transparent as if your ex-partner does not know what is going on, they may well apply to the CMS.
If you cannot afford to pay the full amount of child maintenance or spousal maintenance due, then you should pay a contribution until such time as you are able to return to work. If your income falls below £7.00 per week you do not have to pay child maintenance. However, if you earn between £7.00 - £100 per week you will have an obligation to pay £7 per week.
The Family Team at Clarion remain open and we are here to support you at this difficult time. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any advice or support
Disclaimer: Anything posted on this blog is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any general or specific matter. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information. Please contact the author of the blog if you would like to discuss the issues raised.