We are all struggling with restricted access to loved ones at the moment but for a parent of children and young people, the potential of losing access is likely to be the most frightening aspect of the pandemic.
If, in a time before Covid-19 entered the UK and drastically changed the way we live our lives, your child was subject to Child Arrangements Order (CAO), you are probably concerned that the coronavirus is now making it unsafe to comply with the order.
Should all parents, wherever possible, follow court mandated orders or do these unprecedented times allow for a relaxation in rules?
Child Arrangement Orders and the Covid-19 Crisis
A child arrangements order (CAO) is a legal agreement made between the parents of the child under the age of 16 and the courts.
If parents are unable to agree on the living arrangements of their child because of a breakdown in their own relationship, the courts will make a decision in the best interests of the child.
Each CAO will have a warning noticed attached, making it legally enforceable, meaning all parents should try everything possible to ensure they do not breach the terms of the order.
However, parental responsibility rests with the parent and not the court. It will be up to the parents to decide how their child should be kept safe during the pandemic, even if the child is subject to a Family Court imposed CAO.
Parents can amend the CAO on a temporary basis if they feel the current arrangements place their child or themselves at risk of contracting the virus. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) advise that all changes should be recorded in writing with a text message or email adequate forms of documentation.
Whilst communication is always advised at such a difficult time, if temporary changes cannot be agreed upon by both parents, a single parent can make the decision to alter the agreement to one they deem as keeping their child safe. However, if this means refusing access to a parent, the Family Courts are clear that they must be able to prove the changes were made in conjunction with advice from Public Health England or Public Health Wales.
What if access is being unreasonably refused?
The government guidance has always stressed that children under the age of eighteen can be moved between their parents’ homes if it is not putting them at risk.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, head of the Family Courts in England and Wales, has told parents ignoring child court orders that they could face legal action if they are unfairly withholding access.
Although a parent can change a CAO order if they feel it is within the best interests of their child, Mr McFarlane argued “If the parents are acting in a cynical and opportunistic manner, then that’s wrong, and the courts will regard it as wrong.”
As long as both households remain healthy, adhere to social distancing guidelines and are free from potential exposure to Covid-19, they should adhere to any child court orders.
Wherever possible, maintaining the status quo is advised. If one parent feels this is not possible given the situation Covid-19 has created, discussion, understanding and active listening on both sides will be needed to ensure the best interests of the child are considered.
CP Law are experts in Family Law matters and are on hand to provide support for families facing Child Arrangement Order challenges. To speak to a member of our Family team ring us on 0345 2413100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.