As our third lockdown proceeds, the challenges faced by parents continue. More often than not, parents and children remain where they are (supported by childcare bubbles and support bubbles). But what if you’re thinking about relocating with your children during lockdown?
In my practice area I have seen a growing number of parents seeking to move to different parts of the country without the agreement of the other parent. This has included parents moving from areas with very high infection rates looking to stay in holiday homes.
Sometimes the move is blatant, with a child or children simply being taken. On other occasions a child travels for a holiday to one part of the country and then is not returned, leaving the other parent worried and anxious.
I thought it would be helpful to understand the current lockdown rules that are in place.
Current lockdown rules
The current lockdown rules provide stay-at-home guidance for England. These state that individuals may not leave or be outside their home except when they have a ‘reasonable excuse’, which includes continuing ‘existing arrangements for contact between parents and children where they live apart’.
The President of the Family Division of the High Court (England and Wales) noted that the guidance does not mean that children must move between homes; the decision being one for parents to take between themselves after assessing their circumstances.
The Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March 2020 deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It states that: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
This establishes an exception to the ‘stay-at-home’ requirement. It does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after sensibly assessing 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.
This means that children can currently move between parents in the current lockdown.
What to do if you’re looking to move with your child
If you wish to move with your child to another part of the country, you would need to make an application to the court to set out the arrangements (whether you are able to go and the arrangements for your child seeing their parent once you have moved) if the other parent with parental responsibility does not consent.
What you can do if your child has been moved without your consent
You can make an application to the court for:
- The child’s return to where they were living before they were moved;
- To confirm that the child can return to their school; or
- An order preventing the other parent from taking the child to another part of the country without the other parents’ consent in the future.
An urgent application can be made, if necessary, to seek your child’s urgent return.
If your child has already moved, the court will expect arrangements to be made to enable regular contact between the child and the other parent to be maintained, for example remotely by FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone, whilst the court is considering the matter.
What the court will do
The court will always look at all of the circumstances of the case, whether each parent acted/or is acting reasonably and sensibly in their request and most importantly, what is best for the child in the particular case.
- Never use Covid as an excuse in deciding whether to move or not;
- Before making an application to the court, try to work with the other parent and adopt a combined approach, agreeing as much as you can between yourselves before involving the court. It will be frowned upon by the court if a child is unilaterally moved to another part of the country without firstly doing this;
- A move will no doubt disrupt a child’s day-to-day life and schooling and the intricate details, pros and cons of any move and how it could affect the child should be considered in detail with the other parent before such a move takes place;
- If you are thinking of relocating, stay put, if it is safe to do so for the time being. An application can be made when we are out of the lockdown, if necessary;
- If your child has been taken, seek advice qickly as urgent applications can be made to the court for your child’s return.
Further information on child arrangements and Coronavirus is available here: