The huge impact of this crisis on family life has meant that we are currently receiving a number of enquiries regarding the impact that the closure of the schools is having on their previously agreed or ordered child arrangements. To help those people navigate the new normal, we have answered some of the most frequent questions below.
Is my child allowed to travel between two households for contact with their other parent(s)?
Yes. Michael Gove has confirmed that travel between households for a child's contact with separated parents can continue.
What do I do about a pre-agreed contact schedule if my child or another member of the household becomes ill?
You will need to follow the guidance regarding self-isolation. This may mean that you are unable to return your child to the other parent at the scheduled time. You will need to ensure that the other parent is aware of the reasons and is informed as soon as possible and, to the extent possible, be involved in the decision making. This will be made more difficult for larger blended families with more than two households, but other than the travel between homes, there are no further exceptions for separated parents.
Am I still bound by the child arrangements order that applies to my child?
Unless you can agree changes to it with your child's other parent(s), then broadly yes. Child arrangements orders usually remain in force until another order is made, or the parties agree between them to change the terms. If you do not comply with the terms of order, without the agreement of the other parties, you could technically be liable to an enforcement application. However, the president of the Family Division has said that if you are worried that transporting your child to comply with a child arrangements order would be against public health advice you can exercise your parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that is safe even without the agreement of the other parent. You would still be expected to facilitate contact by video chat or telephone.
If my child's other parent(s) and I cannot agree on changes to the regular structure, what do we do?
As always, in the absence of an agreement, some form of dispute resolution will be necessary. The courts are still open, mediators are still offering their services remotely, and law firms are still practising. You will need to speak to your legal advisers about how best to reach agreement and if that is not possible then an urgent application to the court will be necessary.
We usually hand over via school; what do we do now?
This is a very common arrangement intended to minimise contact between parents during handover which will not be possible now. That, combined with the social distancing and travel restrictions, means that direct handovers are likely to be necessary, unless there are concerns for the safety of either party. If your family arrangements are such that a neutral third party is able to facilitate handovers for you without breaking the new rules then you should look into this, or speak to your legal advisers about other options that might be available in your individual circumstances.
I am now having to work with my child's other parent(s) to home-school our child in more than one household. How can I better communicate with my child's other parent(s) about their progress during their time with me?
Communication between separated parents is rarely easy, and this is not a new issue. There are, therefore, several tools already available to assist separated parents in communicating with each other in a low contact way. Speak to your legal adviser who will be able to recommend creative solutions, or you could research apps such as Our Family Wizard, which have online diaries and document storage so that you can share art projects, homework and videos of your child's perfected TikTok dances with their other parent. There are also more traditional options; you could try a diary of the homework and other activities that you have done with your child on "your days" that you give to the other parent at handover, which you could complete with your child at the end of each day as a plenary session. These options do not need a huge amount of face-to-face contact (a good thing for two reasons now), but allow for the parents to know what their child has been studying so that they do not repeat anything and hear those spine-chilling words: "I'm bored".