The Coronavirus pandemic poses huge challenges for all of us. Separated parents working out how best to co-parent their children during this time have particularly complex arrangements to manage.
As the lockdown has eased, it has become easier for a child to move between two households. Issues may still arise around the safest way for children to spend time with each of their parents, particularly where one household has vulnerable members, or others also moving between two households.
The potential need to enter into self-isolation if the child or other family member has symptoms remains relevant, and it is therefore worth considering whether each parent’s home is equipped to have the children live there for long periods, in terms of clothing, toys, IT facilities and other needs, and what changes may need to be made to prepare for this. If a parent has any safeguarding concerns about a child spending long periods with one parent, then contact arrangements may need to be adjusted to minimise or extinguish the possibility of a child having to self-isolate in that parent’s home.
Where a family is self-isolating following foreign travel, the government’s guidance indicates that it is permitted for a child to change the address at which they are self-isolating where their parents live separately and they need to move between homes as part of a “shared custody arrangement” to fulfil a legal obligation. What exactly this means is subject to interpretation, and parents should aim to agree constructive arrangements that balance the need for safety with the need for the child to maintain their relationship with both parents.
Where children cannot safely move between homes to spend time with a parent or other family members as they otherwise would, then it is important for other forms of contact to take place. This can include telephone or video-calling, as well as, for older children, playing online games together, or having a “watch party” where they watch a film at the same time and share reactions.
As we move into autumn, with schools reopening and spending time with others outdoors likely to become less comfortable, there will be more decisions ahead: parents may disagree about arrangements surrounding school return, contact with extended family or other people outside their household, and the resumption of other activities.
These are extremely difficult decisions for parents to have to make, and in many cases there will be a range of appropriate choices. Where parents do not get along, and there is a lack of trust, reaching agreeing a decision will be even more difficult. Ultimately, the parent with whom the child is currently based will have much of the decision-making power for the time being – but they should bear in mind that how they approached this decision may come to be considered by a court if there are future proceedings relating to arrangements for the children.
If necessary, emergency applications to court can be made. This will be particularly appropriate where contact has been halted and there are no genuine health reasons justifying this.
In some cases where parents are unable to reach a decision, mediation may be a useful option for talking through the issues and concerns. A mediator will not make decisions for you, but will facilitate dialogue and help you reach consensus. Many mediators are currently conducting mediation through video-calls.
If you have any questions or concerns, please be in touch one of our family team or head of department Henry Hood on Henry.Hood@hunterslaw.com