How do you arrange the children’s time now that the schools are shut (for non key worker families) and what child arrangements apply – term time arrangements or holiday arrangements?
These are unchartered waters. Common sense and communication will have to prevail. As is often the case in family law, there is no right answer and there are 2 (or more) ways of approaching this question. Firstly, the children are off school, so, the children undoubtedly have more free time available to them to spend with their other parent. Secondly, the parent whom the child lives with may wish to create a daily curriculum for the children so that their learning is minimally affected. In these circumstances, that parent may prefer the term time routine to be maintained until official school holiday dates come around. Further, travel between 2 homes should potentially be reduced to limit transmission. Maybe changes in the normal routine should be agreed to extend time the children’s time with each parent to reduce lots of to’ing and fro’ing giving any development of symptoms time to show so that risks of transmission can be reduced. Each parent will have to monitor their own, their children’s and their wider family’s symptoms. The children’s contact with each parent will be affected by any development of symptoms. In an ideal world, both parents should be involved in sorting out the additional childcare and learning arrangements necessary for their children in this novel and unsettling period.
You could find that you must self-isolate for 7 days or your whole family may have to isolate for 14 days or more. For a split family living in 2 homes this will create extended separation and upset. It is highly probable that there will be occasions in the coming weeks and months where a child is with one parent and that family then must isolate for 14 days or more. What happens about contact with the other parent?
The Government guidance is that it is very important that individuals with symptoms that may be due to coronavirus and their household members stay at home. Staying at home will help control the spread of the virus to friends, the wider community, and particularly the most vulnerable. Therefore, unless the other parent also has symptoms then the guidance would indicate that time with the other parent will have to await the conclusion of the isolation period.
During this time parents should encourage regular telephone calls and facetime with the absent parent. If child arrangements are subject to a Child Arrangements Order, then the parent isolating with the child(ren) concerned will ultimately be in breach of that order. Given the uncertain times we are in, so long as the justification to isolate is reasonable and not driven to prevent the child spending time with the other parent it is unlikely any criticism would be levied at the parent with care. A word of caution to not misuse this unprecedented Government guidance to prevent your child spending time with their other parent. The courts are still operating and solicitors and the judiciary have access to telephone and video conferencing for hearings so applications and enforcement proceedings can still take place.
Court proceedings (existing and new)
The court system is still operational, there is strong public interest in keeping the Family Justice system continuing to function amidst the coronavirus pandemic. On 19th March 2020 the President of the Family Division issued guidance on court use at this time. Most hearings can be conducted by telephone or video conferencing or by emailed correspondence between the parties. In some situations, physical hearings will be necessary, these will be considered on a case by case basis and subject to the health needs and requirements of all parties. If a party cannot attend because they are vulnerable or isolating but other parties, can, the vulnerable/isolating party will be able to attend by telephone or video link. If a telephone/video hearing is not appropriate and nor is a physical hearing, the case will be adjourned but swift directions will be given for the onward management of the case.
Whilst the pandemic is of course unwelcome, the court has, for several years, operated a physical presence requirement for most court hearings and this experience may at least develop a more remote and cost efficient way of hearing cases in the future.