Guidance for parents who share the care of their children

Covid-19 is one of the most challenging issues to affect our society. It brings many questions and uncertainties for us all. Separated families are no exception.

One of the big questions being asked over the last few days is: when, and for what purpose, can I leave home? Parents, who share the care of their children, are also asking whether taking children to the house of their other parent for contact is permissible.

Since March 23 2020 and, at the time of writing, the Government rules, available here, are to leave home only when:

  1. Shopping for basic necessities (such as food) as infrequently as possible;
  2. Taking one form of exercise a day;
  3. Seeking any medical need (or to provide help to a vulnerable person) or;
  4. Travelling to and from work (which absolutely cannot be done from home).

The government has clarified however that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes, where their parents do not live together in the same household. When leaving your home to take children to contact you must, of course, follow the rules to socially distance yourself from others by keeping two metres apart from those from out with your household and minimise the time spent out of your home.

Travel for contact, and contact itself, is subject to the caveats that if you, or anyone else in your household, have the symptoms of Covid-19, then you and your entire household should follow the rules on self-isolation and stay at home for the required period. The rules on self-isolation are available here. In addition, those who have underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable should also make sure that they follow the rules on shielding which are available here.

Covid-19 clearly means that, for a variety of legitimate reasons, some contact may not take place. That will obviously cause some disappointment for non-resident parents and children. The health and wellbeing of wider society and those most vulnerable is however clearly a priority and so the inevitable disappointment has to be balanced with the wider priority to safeguard public health.

We would encourage parents to work together for the benefit of their children. If contact can safely take place, then it should. Cooperate if you can, and in accordance with Government rules, to share the responsibility of caring for your children. Think also about arrangements which minimise the number of handovers. If contact cannot take place then try and come up with innovative ways for your children to see the parent who doesn’t live with them. Technology, such as Skype and FaceTime, is widely available and is great in allowing those who are self-isolating to stay in touch in these difficult times.

We recognise that cooperation is not always possible and that parents can struggle to agree arrangements with each other. It seems highly unlikely however that parents will have access to the courts for the foreseeable future to regulate or enforce care arrangements.

Above all, be sensible and understanding and take care of yourself and each other.

Matters are, of course, evolving all the time. If you have any questions then please contact the Blackadders Family Law Team, who would be happy to assist.

Duncan Blair, solicitor in family law

Duncan Blair, solicitor in family law