Susan J Williams Partner and Head of Family Department (Cardiff)
Managing Child Arrangements Amid COVID-19
We are now having to face challenges nationally and globally which we never expected, and we are having to adapt very quickly to the significant impact of COVID-19 upon our daily lives. In this unprecedented time of uncertainty, it is normal to have worries about how to manage your household and your family arrangements, to abide by the government guidance whilst maintaining some degree of normality. As Cafcass (Court Welfare Advisory Service) have advised, in this climate of uncertainty it has never been more important to instill a sense of routine and normality for children in order to make them feel safe and secure.
In the last few weeks, with constantly changing government advice regarding social distancing and self-isolation we have all had to adapt our lives and routines. The announcement last week of school closures will have caused distress and anxiety for many children and parents.
As the nation tuned in to listen to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night announce that the UK is tightening up their measures and restricting our ability to leave our homes, many parents will have been left feeling anxious and confused about how this effected the well-established routines that have been put in place either voluntarily between parents or as set out in a Child Arrangements Order. We have been informed that we now must stay at home, other than to shop for food and basic necessities as well as medical supplies, to have exercise once per day, or to travel to or from work. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action being taken by the police and fines could be imposed on those who breach these conditions.
In the UK there are thousands of separated and divorced parents who co parent their children and who woke up this morning to confusion about what this means for them and their children. Anxiety was no doubt exacerbated by the confusing guidance initially delivered by government on Tuesday morning. The Government have now issued reviewed guidance, clearly stating that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
This has provided a much needed level of clarity for parents in what they are permitted to do and is a positive step in maintaining consistency for children. Where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place, this should continue to be followed unless unable to do so due to issues such as self-isolation or where there are members of the household that have underlying health problems or are in the vulnerable category where stricter rules apply. Continuing with existing arrangements instills a sense of ordinariness in this extraordinary situation and also provides reassurance to children that both of their parents are healthy and safe.
Clearly, there will be situations which arise when children cannot be moved between parents’ households. If this is the case then following government advice regarding self-isolation, social distancing, looking after the vulnerable due to underlying health issues or age, is paramount in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Honest and open communication with the other parent is key to avoid the possibility of any conflict. Parents are advised to think creatively about how to facilitate contact through FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp video calling and undertaking virtual activities together such as online games to retain a sense of closeness. Consider whether it is possible to use the allocated one period of exercise a day for the child and the other parent to meet up in a park or outside space where they can socially distance themselves whilst spending time doing an outside activity such as a walk or bike ride.
Parents could consider agreeing ways of ‘making up’ time lost due to the government restrictions when we start to come out of it at the other end so that the other parent feels there is fairness and balance.
A strong and clear message arising out of these uncertain times, is our ability to work together. Our ability to work collaboratively to solve these problems is vital in order to protect our children’s physical and psychological welfare and to avoid conflict when our daily lives get back to normal again.
We have already had many enquiries by telephone and email coming in from anxious parents worried about managing their personal arrangements. If you need help or would like to speak to us about your concerns, and receive expert advice on how to navigate your way through this daunting time, you can contact Susan J Williams, head of Family Team by telephone on 07736969373, or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org