Covid-19 Advice for Separated Parents

Michael Gove has confirmed that children of separated parents who are under 18 and who usually move between houses can continue to do so.  Yesterday further guidance was given by the President of the Family Division, The Rt Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane. 

In short, regardless of whether or not there is a court order in place, parents are expected to care for their children by acting safely and sensibly.  The Public Health England and Public Health Wales (PHE/PHW) rules must be applied. 

What if there’s already a court order in place?

Temporary changes to a court order can be made by agreement between the parents.  It’s recommended that a record is kept by way of an exchange of emails, text message or a note.

What if there’s a court order in place but parents cannot agree changes?

If one parent is sufficiently concerned that the current arrangements would be in breach of the PHE/PHW rules that parent can exercise their parental responsibility and vary the agreement to ensure their child(ren) is safe.  Later challenges in court will need to balance whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice and Stay at Home Rules.

If there’s a court order in place and contact with one parent doesn’t take place, it’s expected that the spirit of the order is followed.  This means alternative arrangements should be put in place such as indirect contact via platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, What’s App etc.

Other points for parents to think about are below:

  • How will you talk to your children about what is happening and Covid-19?  Your children may be worried about themselves, about you and elderly grandparents.  They may be missing their friends, school and their usual daily routine.  Parents may want to share their children’s concerns with each other so any anxieties can be managed as best as possible with suitable reassurance and advice.
  • If one household is self-isolating should time lost with the other parent be made up?  This could for example be during school holidays.  Acknowledge some flexibility may be needed at this time
  • How can parents ensure school work is completed?   Who will take responsibility for what?
  • Do both parents agree on important matters such as whether the children should be allowed out of the home for example, to a supermarket or pharmacy, to an outdoor space to exercise?

Guidance for supporting your children can be found on the websites below:

https://childmind.org/coping-during-covid-19-resources-for-parents/

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource

https://emergingminds.com.au/resources/supporting-children-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak/

There will be families who find it too difficult to make these decisions without expert input.  If this is the case then the support of a third party such as a neutral mediator may assist. 

As a last resort an application can still be made to court who are generally dealing with court hearings remotely.

Sandra Marshall and Madeleine Young are both family mediators and specialist family lawyers.  Contact Sandra on 0118 955 9615 or Madeleine on 0118 955 9616 to discuss on a no obligation basis.

Published on 26/03/2020

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