Exemptions to the Stay at Home Rule in Family Matters
Collective hopes that 2021 might bring with it a change of fortunes were dashed within just a few days of 1 January as Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in the fight against coronavirus.
We have been here before (with the rollout of the vaccines we hope we will not be again), but it is helpful to have a reminder of the rules and the ways in which they impact in family cases.
1. Children moving between households of separated parents
Where parents of children do not live together, children may continue to move freely between the homes of both parents without contravening the lockdown rules. However, it is not always as simple as this in practice for many families. Some involve an international element, with parents in different countries; others may have a household where members are shielding.
On 24 March 2020, the President of the Family Division issued guidance to separated parents making clear that children can move between households but that that does not mean they must do so. He tasked parents with making a “sensible assessment” of the circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection and the vulnerability of members of both households. He encouraged an open dialogue between parents – something that is always to be encouraged – but warned that if one party unilaterally changes the terms of an existing child arrangements order, a court may retrospectively “look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay-at-Home rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family“.
It was also confirmed separately by the Ministry of Justice (in October 2020, when the country was not in lockdown) that (i) a child in quarantine may still move between the houses of their separated parents (ii) parents in quarantine or self-isolation may still leave home for handover to the other parent and (iii) children may still visit or stay with a parent that is self-isolating. This may be important for families separated across international borders, although it must be remembered that the circumstances in which international travel is permitted are currently extremely limited (consult the different rules for each country within the UK via: http://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus).
During the pandemic we have advised clients in a wide variety of different circumstances (with national and international considerations) on the best way to approach the arrangements for children. The most important point is that it is always sensible to take early advice to make sure these sensitive issues are managed carefully and correctly.
2. Domestic abuse
The pressures of lockdown and the impact of this on domestic abuse have been widely reported. Government advice makes very clear that household isolation instructions do not apply where there is a need to leave home to escape domestic abuse. It is important to remember that domestic abuse is not limited to physical abuse but also includes, for example, coercive control, emotional, sexual, verbal and financial abuse. We can advise – on an urgent basis where required – on what to do in such difficult circumstances, including, if appropriate, seeking injunctive relief. We can also put you in touch with organisations that can offer support.
3. Support bubbles
Support and childcare bubbles remain part of the lockdown arrangements. They are likely to be of greater relevance to separated families and are not mutually exclusive, so if you qualify for both you may form two separate bubbles.
Support bubbles allow single adults or single parents of children who are under 18 to form a support bubble with another household.
Childcare bubbles allow families with children under 14 (or vulnerable adults) to form a childcare bubble with another household for informal (i.e. unpaid and unregistered) childcare that can take place in either or both of the two homes.
Detailed rules apply to these bubbles and it is always important to check and continue to be mindful.
Whatever your circumstances, and whatever problems may arise, it is important to keep two points firmly in mind: Focus on what is in the best interests of any children of the family and do all you can to keep yourselves and others safe.
Children of divorced or separated parents can continue to move freely between both parents’ homes.
Here at Alison Fielden we have experienced solicitors Heather Weevil and Steven Barratt who can advise and act in family cases.
To get in touch with Alison Fielden & Co visit http://alisonfielden.co.uk/