The Prime Minister’s address last night which effectively puts the country into ‘lockdown’ will have far-reaching implications for all walks of life. For those parents who have separated and share their time with the children, it is a particularly uncertain time.
It is understandable that there will be confusion amongst separated parents about what the impact of the lockdown will be and whether their usual living/contact arrangements for their children can continue.
According to the ONS, just under 3 million children live in single parent families. Where those families have agreed or Court Ordered arrangements for their children which see them stay with each parent during specified times, the new measures will cause widespread concern.
Since the self-isolation guidance was announced, we have already received a number of enquiries from concerned parents who are anxious not to breach agreed or Court Ordered contact/living arrangements for their children or, from the other perspective, from parents concerned that the other will use the self-isolation rules to exclude them from their children’s lives.
The Prime Minister’s address on Monday evening severely limits the circumstances under which people may leave their homes to all but essential purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities
- One form of exercise a day, alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, to give care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work if ‘absolutely necessary’ and cannot be done from home
However, on ITV this morning (and clarified on Twitter after some initial confusion) Cabinet Minister Michael Gove confirmed that parents can continue to share living arrangements of their children.
Therefore, where able to do so, existing arrangements or Court Orders should be adhered to as far as possible whilst also maintaining social distancing if possible. In most cases it should hopefully be possible for one parent to be able to take the children to the other parent’s home to hand over the children, although they should avoid going into the other parent’s home.
There will be certain cases which are more difficult to navigate than others (for example, those where handover arrangements are undertaken in a public place or via third parties) and in those situations careful thought should be given as to how contact can still be maintained without potentially placing either parent at risk from the other.
There will also be difficulties where parents see their children at a dedicated contact centre which will now need to close. In those situations it may be necessary to make the most of technology such as FaceTime or Zoom to try to maintain some form of contact as best possible.
The key during this time is likely to be communication between the parents to ensure that arrangements for the children can continue as best as possible. We appreciate that effective communication is not always easy and parents will need to do their best to place the needs of the children and work together during this difficult time.
Most importantly, stay safe.