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Coronavirus: Separated Families and Contact with Children in Care

20 Oct 2020

Posted in Family Law

On 15th October 2020, the House of Commons released an information leaflet addressing the key questions and queries that you may have about navigating the pandemic as a separated family. Please ensure that as well as the information below, you are also taking into account the restrictions in your area. You can use the BBC online tool to find out more about local restrictions here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54373904

Can I see my child if I do not live with them?

Under the current guidelines, it is permitted for children to move between their parents’ homes in cases where their parents do not live in the same household. This exception to the stay at home requirement applies under all three alert levels in the new introduced tiered system. This does not mean that children must be moved between their parents’ homes. Parents are able to make this decision, taking into account their child’s present health, the risk of infection, and the risk of any vulnerable individuals who live in either household.

What do I do if my child needs to self-isolate?

If you are told your child has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you must ensure that your child self isolates for 14 days “so far as is reasonably practicable”. If your child is self-isolating, they are not permitted to leave the house to visit a parent with whom they do not live. In many cases, the court will expect you to make alternative arrangements in the interests of the safety of all parties. For example, video calls may substitute face to face contact if the established routine cannot be maintained due to illness.

How does the pandemic impact existing court orders for contact?

If you fail to comply with the terms of an existing child arrangements order, you must provide a ‘reasonable excuse’, and proof of the same, to the court. If you are unable to comply as a result of local pandemic guidelines, please seek legal advice before you fail to do so.

where coronavirus restrictions cause

Where parents are concerned that complying with a court order would be against pandemic guidelines, they may agree jointly that the order should be temporarily varied. In instances where only one parent is concerned, they may vary the arrangement independently to make it safer. Please note, under these circumstances, the other parent will be able to question their behaviour in the Family Court. The court will determine whether each parent acted reasonably. The court will expect alternative arrangements to have been made, for example virtual contact via Facetime, Zoom.

How does the pandemic impact child maintenance payments?

If you pay or receive your child maintenance on an informal basis, any adjustments to the payment should, in the first instance, be discussed between the parents of the child in question. If your child maintenance is court ordered, please seek legal advice on the specific contents of your order.

If your child maintenance payments are organised and overseen by the CMS (Child Maintenance Service), there will be an adjustment made to the payments if the gross weekly salary of the paying parent changes by 25%. This policy has not changed as a result of the pandemic.

If you are the paying parent, you are required to inform CMS if:

  1. you have lost your job,
  2. you are not receiving any income due to self-isolation,
  3. you are temporarily receiving statutory sick pay,
  4. you are adopting a child, you are reporting a bereavement or
  5. if child maintenance should no longer be paid

If you do not receive your child maintenance payment, CMS can take action against the parent who has failed to pay. If you receive your money via CMS, CMS will contact the paying parent directly.  If your child maintenance sum has been determined using the CMS calculator, but you receive the payment directly from the paying parent, you will need to contact CMS and request action if a payment is missed. You can do this on the online portal.

If your child maintenance arrangements are new, please note that, while first payments usually arrive within 12 weeks of the arrangement, your initial payment may be delayed due to the Coronavirus crisis.

For more information regarding temporary changes to care arrangements, and CMS’ enforcement powers, please consult the House of Commons information booklet, which you can find here. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8901/CBP-8901.pdf

Can I visit my child in care/in a residential home?

Local authorities are required to allow contact as long as it is reasonable; this is to be assessed on a case by case basis, taking into account social distancing guidelines as well as the needs of the child. In some cases, the child themselves may be consulted. In instances where it is necessary to safeguard or promote the health and wellbeing of the child, contact can be halted for 7 days. Where face to face contact is not possible, it is required that authorities make alternative arrangements such as video calls.

My child contact centre is closed – what are my alternatives?

On 13th October, the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) confirmed that most centres remain open. There are ongoing discussions regarding whether it is reasonable for people to travel through high-risk areas to reach a contact centre. At this stage, centres have been instructed to make independent decisions based on their preparedness, and whether opening their doors would contravene local advice. To find out what services are available, you can contact the NACCC directly here. https://naccc.org.uk/find-a-centre

Where can I go for help and advice?

For more help and advice, please consult the leaflet itself, which can be found here. Further resources are available and listed in Section 2.7 of the government leaflet. Alternatively please contact Tejal Samani who is the head of our family department and will be pleased to assist you further at tejal@pindorialaw.com or 0208 951 69 59