Separated Families in Lockdown

During periods of national and local lockdowns many separated families are questioning whether children can move between the homes of their separated parents or whether they ought to remain at the home of one parent for the duration of the lockdown period. The Government has issued guidance setting out when children can and cannot move between their parents’ respective homes providing some clarity on the issue.

Can a child move between their parents’ homes during lockdown?

From 5th November 2020 individuals must not leave or be outside the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. A list of reasons why an individual may be permitted to leave their home is provided in the Government’s Coronavirus Regulations and specifically includes “for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and a child where the child does not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents.”

This however does not mean that children must move between homes and the specific circumstances of each family ought to be considered on an individual basis. In response to initial guidance published in March the President of the Family Division of the High Court noted that there should “a sensible assessment of 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” when making a decision.

Self-Isolation – where a child has been in contact with a positive case of coronavirus

Where a is child required to self-isolate, for example if they have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus, then the child should not move between homes for the duration of the self-isolation period. The Government guidance specifically states that “visiting a parent whom a child was not living with at the time they were notified of the requirement to self-isolate is not specifically listed as a reason why a child self-isolating may leave the house.”

In such situations where it is not possible for direct contact with the other parent to take place alternative arrangements should be made to establish and maintain regular contact for example by Facetime, Skype or other video connection, or where that is not possible by telephone.

Self-Isolation – where a child is required to self-isolate when returning from abroad

Guidance provides that individuals may change their accommodation where “a legal obligation requires you to change address, such as where you are a child whose parents live separately, and you need to move between homes as part of a shared custody agreement”.  The guidance does not however cover circumstances where there is no Court Order in place.

Whilst the Government has provided some clarity there will no doubt be circumstances which are not covered and where issues arise that cannot be resolved between the parents. In those circumstances they should seek independent legal advice.

If you would like to discuss your child’s arrangements, either generally or specifically in relation to coronavirus restrictions, please do not hesitate to contact us.