The current pandemic has caused uncertainty across the country, but in particular for parents with contact arrangements in place for their children.
Early on in the pandemic, the Government provided welcome clarification that there was a specific exception to the lockdown rules imposed, that: "where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes." This meant that while the rules requiring people to stay at home remained in place, contact could still go ahead as normal.
This allowed a necessary exception but did not require contact to take place. This meant that could consider together whether it was in their child's best interests to be moved between households, factoring in the health risk and wider situation. Fortunately the lockdown relaxed somewhat over the summer and while there are still restrictions on household mixing, we are not currently required to stay at home. The ability to move between households for the purposes of facilitating contact remains an exemption where necessary in terms of household mixing.
Travel from abroad
As matters have progressed with the pandemic the Government has imposed quarantine requirements for people returning home from specified countries.
This could lead to difficulties if one parent takes their child abroad to a country that necessitates quarantine when returning home as it could interfere with contact arrangements already in place. The guidance confirms that a child can travel between two households for the purposes of contact within 14 days of their return from overseas. The guidance however does refer to formal contact arrangements i.e. contact that is Court ordered. While it remains in place, parents may wish to have a discussion as to what is the best way forward and consider some flexibility, depending on the wider situation and any health concerns that there may be.
Something which was still not clear was the position in those cases where one parent lives abroad and travels to the UK for contact with their child. Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers, has therefore sought clarification from the Government. The Department of Transport has now clarified the guidance in situations where a child or a parent has returned back to the country and is subject to the 14 day quarantine period as being:
- A parent who accompanied a child on their return from a restricted country can leave quarantine to hand them over to the other parent to facilitate contact arrangements.
- A parent entering the UK from a restricted country can also leave their self-isolation for handover as part of contact arrangements.
- The Government has also confirmed that a child already in the UK is not prevented from visiting or staying with a parent who is in self-isolation (assuming that no other Covid requirements are broken e.g. the local lockdown restrictions or the rule of 6).
However, the Government has also confirmed that the visiting parent would not be exempt from self-isolation merely because they were in the UK to spend time with their child and wanted to leave their address with the child for recreation.
Parents can travel to the UK in order to have contact with their children if that arrangement is already in place, but they will not necessarily be able to enjoy the contact in the ways they previously might have done. Time can be spent with the child being visited at home and as part of the isolation, but beyond that the parent will have to remain in isolation for the 14 days if required. As it stands, international contact is another element which is being affected by the pandemic.
It is important to note that the clarification from the Government refers to formal (i.e. Court ordered) contact arrangements. It is not certain that this would apply to more informal arrangements which have not been recorded in any order of the Court.
As with all matters, it is best for parents to consider the wider situation and what it is in the best interests of the child. This is an unsettling time for parents as well as for children. As restrictions continue to change, both internationally and domestically, it is important to ensure that any decisions taken are in the best interests of the child.