With Government guidance telling us only to go out when essential and not to mix with people who do not live in our household, what happens to children whose parents live apart? Can they still see both parents as they did before the restrictions?

Whether you have an agreement with your ex-partner or there is a Court Order in place, in the current uncertain times, it can be difficult to establish whether the existing or intended arrangements should continue or whether they should be altered in some way or even cancelled altogether.

The guidance received from the Courts and Tribunal’s Judiciary is quite clear: the expectation is that parents must care for their children by acting both sensibly and safely when making decisions about where and with whom their children should spend their time.

The Government guidance that was issued alongside the ‘stay-at-home’ rules on 23 March 2020 states that although children must not be moved between homes, there is an exception where parents do not live in the same household: children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

This of course is on the basis of a careful assessment that parents must undertake together, as they remain jointly responsible for their children and therefore must make decisions together in the current crisis and focus on the best interests and safety of their children.

The guidance from the Courts and Tribunal’s Judiciary goes on to say that the best way to deal with the current difficulties is for parents to communicate with one another and discuss the worries they may have and hopefully reach good and practical solutions together.

The key message for parents that may be affected by the current crisis is this: where the coronavirus restrictions cause existing agreements/orders to be varied in line with the best interests of their children, the spirit of the order or of the agreement must be delivered by making safe, alternative arrangements for the children.

Let us not forget that our children’s lives have already been disrupted tremendously, given that they have been unable to go to school or social clubs for several weeks now nor spend time with their friends. Stopping them from seeing their other parent cannot possibly be in their best interests, unless of course it places them at risk of harm, in which case parents must use their common sense and make the appropriate decision in line with the best interests of their children.

If in any doubt as to what may or may not be in the best interests of a child or what may put a child at risk, please take advice from a specialist solicitor who can assist in these uncertain times so that the rightful decision is made for your children whilst ensuring their safety.

Blythe Liggins remain open for business and can provide that advice. We are not open for business “as usual”, as our offices are currently closed to the public in accordance with government guidelines, but we are still working behind locked doors and providing vital legal services to our existing clients and new clients.

Please be and keep safe and continue to provide safe care and arrangements for your children.

CAPTION: Sophia Mellor, Associate Solicitor in the Family Department

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