Coronavirus information for separated families
Coronavirus information for separated families – Ian Walker
The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper setting out information in response to some key questions regarding the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on separated families, maintenance arrangements and contact with children, including children in care.
Much of this information we have given here previously, but it bears repeating, and the paper is a useful one-stop guide for parents albeit that, as the paper points out, this is a fast-moving issue and the briefing should be read as correct at the time of publication (28th of May).
Here are some of the highlights of the paper:
The briefing confirms that children may be moved between their parents’ homes for the purpose of contact arrangements, and repeats the advice of the President of the Family Division that this does not mean that children must move between homes – the decision is for parents to take, after assessing their circumstances.
There is, however, one small issue with the Government’s lockdown regulations. The issue has been there since March, and is repeated in the new ‘lockdown easing’ regulations, which came into force on the 1st of June. These state that “no person may participate in a gathering which takes place in a public or private place (a) outdoors, and consists of more than six persons, or (b) indoors, and consists of two or more persons.” However, one of the exceptions to this is “where … the gathering is reasonably necessary … to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents”. It has been pointed out that this wording suggests that only existing contact arrangements are exempt, not new arrangements that are entered into on or after the 1st of June. Hopefully, this was just an oversight on the part of those who drafted the regulations, and that the exemption does indeed apply to all contact arrangements.
The briefing also sets out the President’s guidance regarding compliance with child arrangements orders – i.e. that where parents do not agree upon any variation of the arrangements in an order any variation by one parent on safety ground may be subsequently considered by the court, to see if the parent acted reasonably. Otherwise, the “key message” should be that “where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child”, for example by FaceTime or Skype.
Child contact centres are of course often used to facilitate contact, but centres have been closed. For more information, see section 2.5 of the briefing.
Obviously, many people are suffering from a loss of income due to the lockdown. This may of course impact upon the ability of parents to pay child maintenance.
If this applies to you then what you should do depends upon what type of maintenance arrangement you have.
If the arrangement is simply agreed with the other parent, then you should contact them to explain the position and discuss the matter.
If, on the other hand, you are paying through the Child Maintenance Service, then you should telephone the Service to request a reduction in the payments. The Service is currently accepting verbal evidence of income changes over the phone, and is not currently contacting paying parents about missing payments. Obviously this will change when the emergency is over!
Contact with children in care
Lastly, the briefing sets out the position regarding contact between a child and their parents, where the child is in local authority care.
Essentially, the Government expects such contact to continue, but recognises that it might not always be possible. Where face-to-face contact is not possible, social workers and other professionals are encouraged to reassure children that this position is temporary, and will be reviewed as soon as it is possible to do so.
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You can find the briefing paper here.
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