We’re separated – does the latest lockdown change our child arrangements?
By Jones Myers Solicitor, Lisa Russell
In a tumultuous week which has seen schools and colleges in England closed until at least half term and A-Levels and GCSEs cancelled, estranged parents are seeking clarification about contact arrangements for their children.
The third national lockdown – forced by a surge in the new variant of Covid-19 – will no doubt further increase logistical and practical challenges for parents who are divorced or separated.
Restrictions mean everyone must stay at home except those who cannot work from home. Leaving the house is only permitted for specified reasons including essential shopping, medical assistance and exercise.
Children under 18 whose parents are separated can still continue to visit parents they do not live with – providing both households are healthy and children are not put at risk.
Support and child care bubbles can remain the same but, as with previous lockdowns, children and their parents cannot mix with people (either indoors or outdoors) outside their parents’ households.
The latest school closures will no doubt be very difficult for separated parents who will need to ensure their children can participate in remote learning – regardless of whose home they are in throughout the week.
Children of key workers will be entitled to school provision and nursery school children can access Early Years childcare which will remain open.
It is vital that separated parents communicate regularly and are flexible regarding their usual child contact arrangements to enable each parent to continue to work.
The guidance from the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, RT Hon Sir Andrew McFarlane back in March 2020 remains as relevant now as it was then. “It is for the child’s parents to make 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.”
There is a lot of evidence that children can thrive in separated families. What is damaging for them is being exposed to conflict between their parents.
In situations where effective communication is not so straightforward, Mediation can help to work out suitable arrangements. It can also minimise the risk of children being “caught in the crossfire”.
Jones Myers highly committed Children’s Department balances the needs of children and their parents in issues including residence and contact disputes, care proceedings, international child abduction and adoption.
Our specialist lawyers are here to advise and support in all areas of children and family law through the challenging and uncertain days, weeks and months ahead.