Family lawyers have sought clarification from the Department for Transport (DoT) via the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on the impact of the Covid-19 quarantine rules in relation to child contact arrangements where one parent lives abroad.
Parents are naturally anxious for the safety and wellbeing of their children when moving them between homes and locations during the pandemic and particularly so when that involves navigating international borders in the current crisis in order to facilitate arrangements. Given the impending October half term holidays the issue of travelling to a country on the Westminster Government's "red list" (so a restricted country) is likely to become a pressing live issue.
Clarification was therefore sought on this question by Resolution, a body of family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of all issues flowing from relationship breakdown.
The response from the DoT via the MoJ confirmed that:
- A child is permitted to move between addresses to fulfil formal (i.e. court ordered) contact arrangements within 14 days of their return from overseas, and that the parent who accompanied them overseas can leave quarantine to hand them over to the other parent in order to comply with the contact arrangements.
- A parent entering the country can also leave self-isolation for "handover" as part of formal contact arrangements; and furthermore there is nothing in the Regulations which prevents a child already in the UK from visiting or staying with that parent in self-isolation (assuming that no other COVID requirements are broken i.e. the rule of six).
- However, the visiting parent would not be exempted 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 recreational activities.
Any clarification which can be given to diffuse the potential for high conflict in these situations can only be positive. It nevertheless remains important, if at all possible, for parents to be able to agree in good time the arrangements for time spent with each parent, whether this is abroad or in the UK and to agree contingency plans if due to further or changing restrictions original plans are not workable.
The October half term is upon us. There is still time for parents to agree half term arrangements with professional assistance if they need to, but they need to make those discussions a priority.
Likewise, it is never too early to start to plan and agree the Christmas holiday arrangements. If after early discussion parents need professional assistance to help them reach an agreement they can attend mediation with a third party independent mediator or engage in the collaborative process (a holistic approach where both parents and their respective specifically collaboratively trained lawyers all sit down together to discuss and commit to reaching an agreement with the children's interests at the forefront of the discussions).