The advice given in this article is correct as of 24th March 2020. The situation with Coronavirus is developing rapidly, so please do check our COVID-19 Insights Hub for the latest updates.

The President of the Family Division released on 24 March 2020 guidance regarding compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders in light of the current Coronavirus crisis. 

Perhaps, unsurprisingly the parents of children who are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders made by the Family Court have become concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of orders safely in the unprecedented and unforeseen circumstances that now apply to us all. 

The President released a short statement offering advice in the most general form to try and assist parents. 

Below is a link to the relevant guidance which we hope will assist families in understanding the current position and it may help allay confusion at an already difficult time.

The key messages in the statement include clarification and expectations that parents must act sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding their children. Parents must continue to abide by the rules on staying at home and away from others issued by the government on 23 March and follow the guidance updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales. 

An exception has been established to the mandatory stay at home requirement since, where parents who do not live in the same household as their children under 18 can be moved between their parents home. The important distinction is that guidance is not that children must be moved between homes but rather the decision as to whether they should move is one that should fall to the parents after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, risk of infection and presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals from one household to the other. 

The President encourages parents to try to communicate with one another about their worries to try to come up with a good practical solution. The President suggests that it would be sensible for each parent to record any agreement in a note, email or a text message. Where parents cannot agree and where one parent is so concerned that complying with an order would be against current PHE/PHW advice then that parent may exercise their Parental Responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider safe. If the other parent then questions those actions and subsequently brings Court proceedings to consider the issue, the Court is likely to consider whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of official advice. 

As we highlighted in our article regarding Child Arrangements generally at this difficult time, the Court will expect arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between children and the other parent for example by using FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other video connections in addition to telephone contact. 

The key message from the President is that where the Coronavirus situation causes the letter of a Court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should be complied with nevertheless to ensure that safe alternative arrangements for the children can be made. 

If you are faced with a situation concerning the above issues, then please do not hesitate to contact us.