Many separated parents will have been watching the Prime Minister’s briefings anxiously over the past days and weeks worrying about how the evolving measures will affect the arrangements for their children.
We have been monitoring the developments closely and advising our clients about how the measures should be interpreted for separated families, however yesterday CAFCASS (the organisation that represents children and promotes their welfare in the family courts) provided some much-welcomed guidance for parents. This was swiftly followed by the Prime Minister’s message to the nation to “stay at home” and not to travel unless “absolutely necessary”. What does the lockdown mean for children who have two homes and/or travel for contact with one of their parents (which could in some cases be supervised or visiting contact)?
Many parents watching Michael Gove speak on Good Morning Britain early this morning would have been shocked and surprised by his response to questioning Susanna Reid that children would have to stay at the home of the parent who they were currently with (as Susanna described it playing “lock down roulette”). Thankfully he has subsequently apologised and clarified that the advice was incorrect.
So, what is the right advice?
The written government guidance is clear that even in the current lockdown, where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes and that will not breach the travel restrictions. Whilst that was a footnote to the guidance last night, it has now been placed front and centre.
CAFCASS’ guidance is also invaluable, and we would encourage separated parents to read it in full. It highlights the importance of parents maintaining consistency in their child’s routine so contact arrangements should continue as normal unless there is a very good reason not to do so which puts a child, or others, at risk (for example in the case of a vulnerable child with a serious health condition who has been advised by medical professionals not to travel). The guidance encourages parents to think creatively if self-isolation is necessary – for example, organising indirect contact such as Skype or Facetime or online story-time. Good communication is also key. This is a time for parents to focus more than ever on co-parenting and working together.