COVID-19 And Child Arrangement Orders
Each week, Thursdays, 9-10AM, we join The Law Society’s Solicitor Chat on Twitter to answer questions about various legal matters.
This week’s subject is Child Arrangement Orders, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When parents separate, it’s important to make sure child arrangements are in place which benefit the children and work best for them. But what is a Child Arrangement Order? And what impact does the Coronavirus pandemic have on Child Arrangement Orders?”
What is a Child Arrangement Order and what does it put into place?
This is a Court Order that can set out either (a) the living arrangements for the child (i.e. who the child will live with and when), (b) the arrangements for a child to spend time with somebody, or (c) both.
If a CAO provides for a child to live with someone who does not already have parental responsibility for that child then they acquire parental responsibility and can make important decisions regarding the child.
What will the court take into consideration when an application for a Child Arrangement Order is made?
The court when contemplating whether to make such an order will look at if an order is required in the best interests of the child. The Judge will look at all the circumstances of the case and to help the Judge decide what is in the child’s best interests, there is a “Welfare Checklist” that sets out certain factors that must be taken into account, such as the wishes and feelings of the child (dependent upon the child’s age and understanding).
What should parents take into consideration when making a Child Arrangement Order?
When considering applying for a CAO parents should always have the best interest of the child at the forefront of their minds.
How can a solicitor help parents making a Child Arrangement Order?
A solicitor, can advise parents about whether or not to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order or whether or not another type of order may be more appropriate; and also how to respond to any application that is made by the other parent. A solicitor will help, advise and support them through what can be an emotional and stressful process.
What impact does the Coronavirus have on Child Arrangement Orders? What guidance would you give to parents during this time?
Coronavirus does not impact upon the actual Order, i.e. a Child Arrangements Order will continue to be valid during this time, but Coronavirus will have practical consequences about whether the terms of the Order can (or should) be complied with at this time. Wherever possible, parents need to be practical and realistic about carrying out the terms of the Order for a child to spend time with a parent and move between parents’ households. Government guidance has been issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules, which specifies that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. The Family Court has also issued guidance about this.
Parents at this time must take into account the child’s present health, risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable people in either household. If parents can communicate about any worries and agree to temporarily vary the child arrangements in the current situation, then they are free to do so. It would be a good idea for this agreement to be recorded in a note, email or text message.
If one parent does not believe it is safe to comply with the arrangements in the CAO, but cannot agree to a variation in the terms with the other parent, then they can exercise their parental responsibility to vary the arrangements. The other parent could make an application to the Court to enforce the Order after the event. The Court will look at the evidence and is likely to look at whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the Government advice and the Stay at Home Rules at the time.
The key message is that where current Government 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.” If face to face contact is not safe or practical, parents should look at alternatives like remote contact by video call, telephone etc.
Do you need advice about a Child Arrangement Order?
If so, our Family Law team are here to help during this difficult time for everyone.