Co-parenting during the Coronavirus outbreak

Lindsey Canning Lindsey Canning 27 March 2020

With non-essential travel, social distancing, self-isolation and school closures enforced across the UK, how best can you manage co-parenting during the coronavirus outbreak?

Lindsey Canning, head of Family Law at Wake Smith Solicitors looks at the issue.

Can I just keep the children with me during this time?

This is not a straightforward answer. Where there are child arrangement orders in place regulating where the children will live and whom they will spend time, these orders remain in effect and there are consequences for breaching them.

Children’s welfare is court’s primary concern about contact and living arrangements. Parents should bear this in mind when it comes to contact arrangements and agreeing any temporary changes.

These times should not be an excuse to change parenting arrangements.

If you have queires about a court order, then ask your legal representative for help.

Is it acceptable to drive short distance between ex-partner’s homes with the children?

Acting responsibly for your children means you should abide by the rules on staying at home and staying away from others, issued by the Government on 23 March 2020.

It is no longer permitted for a person, including a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical needs or attending essential work. Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ home.  This is an exception to the mandatory stay at home requirement.

Ex-partners should make the decision whether to continue to move the children between homes based on present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. If you need to stop, use Face-Time, Whatsapp, Zoom, Skype, and the telephone to make contact.

What about drop-offs and pick-ups?

Many child arrangement orders stipulate how handovers should take place, but parents do need to communicate on practical arrangements at this time. 

For example, if handovers are to take place in a public place, consider trying to agree to another location, such as one of the parent’s homes.  If handovers are typically achieved by dropping off and collecting children from school, think about a temporary measure that facilitates both parent’s work patterns.

What about where estranged parents live long distances apart and usually drive to drop off the children for periods of time?

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes. However, one grey area is where your partner is not the child’s mother/father as this would not constitute essential travel. Ex-partners should try to agree on arrangements, and court applications should be the last, not the first, resort.

What if one parent tests positive for Coronavirus?

Even if a child arrangement order exists, if a parent tests positive for Coronavirus, it is best for the health of the child not to see that parent during the 14-day self-isolation stage.

The government’s current advice is that those who are living with someone who has coronavirus should self isolate for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms.  This may mean that you breach an order, however this would be the sensible way forward. Talk to your ex-partner about this.

I have lost my job so am worried about being able to pay child maintenance or spousal maintenance?

Communicate and be transparent with your ex-partner. If they are unaware of your situation and you don’t pay they could contact the Child Maintenance Service for assistance which can create extra, unwanted tension. Show any paperwork you have to explain the situation.

The Government has unveiled a host of measures to help people who have lost their jobs at this time. If in doubt visit www.gov.uk for further details.

Lindsey added: “This pandemic has meant we all have all had to look at how we manage our daily lives and putting children into this equation can be extremely stressful.

“If you have any queries on your arrangements, please seek professional legal advice as a starting point.”

For further advice please contact Lindsey Canning at lindsey.c[email protected] 

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