Hubble, (Support) Bubble, Toil and Trouble

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“Social distancing”, “support bubble”, and “shielding” are all words that we have become accustomed to since lockdown began. At the time the Stay at Home Rules were put in place we thought that we generally knew what the rules were. However, for separated families with children under 18 moving between two households, the rules were perhaps not so clear.

Most people were aware that children of separated parents under the age of 18 could move between each parent’s house. But if one of those parents was shielding or a keyworker, for example, was it still okay for the child to stay with the other parent?

During lockdown the vast majority of advice I have given concerning children has related to the correct interpretation of the Stay At Home Rules and how these would apply to my client’s particular circumstances. As we have not seen a situation like this before, there has been no precedent as to how to deal with disputes. What has become clear is that each family’s situation will turn on its own particular facts.

Regard should be had to the President of the Family Division’s Guidance on Compliance with Child Arrangements Orders during the coronavirus. This guidance notes that it may not always be possible to adhere to Child Arrangement Orders where children need to move between two households due to the possible risks involved. The decision as to whether children should move between two households was for the parents. Parents needed to make 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”.

Ideally, after such an assessment, both parents would reach an agreement about the arrangements which would adequately safeguard the children, vulnerable parents and other members of the household. If the parents did not agree to vary the terms of a Child Arrangements Order, but one parent was concerned enough that to adhere to it would place a family member at an unacceptable level of risk, they could exercise their parental responsibility to vary the arrangement to one that they considered was safe.

If this all seems as clear as mud, matters are now being further complicated by a plethora of new rules aimed at easing the lockdown, such as changes to who can meet up outside and the introduction of support bubbles for single parents. With the relaxation of rules has inevitably come a certain amount of complacence by some, as demonstrated by the crowds at Bournemouth beach during the recent heatwave. If you consider that your child’s other parent is acting irresponsibly in terms of social distancing and putting either your child or you at risk it is important to seek legal advice tailored to your particular situation as no family ever has the same set of circumstances.

Should you require advice or assistance please feel free to contact me on the contact details provided.

Author: Hannah Millrain, Family Solicitor