The Government’s measures to slow the spread of coronavirus affect all aspects of life, including family law.
Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) have been affected significantly by measures limiting the circumstances in which people can leave their homes.
The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Sir Andrew Macfarlane, the senior judge with responsibility for family law has now issued a statement to clarify the approach being taken to the crisis by the Family Courts in respect of CAOs.
Noting that the Government guidance issued with the Stay at Home rules states:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
Sir Andrew points out that this does not mean that children necessarily have to be moved between homes and that parents should take decisions based on a full assessment of circumstances, such as the health of the child and the vulnerability of others in the households.
Importantly, where parents decide to vary temporarily the terms of a CAO, he recommends that they record this fact in a note, email or text message to the other parent.
If both parents cannot agree on a variation of the terms of a CAO, but one is concerned that complying with the terms would be against advice from Public Health England, they can decide to vary the arrangement to ensure they are safe.
Such a decision could be examined after the event by the Family Court, which expect the parent to have acted reasonably and according to current guidance.
Sir Andrew adds that where a CAO has been varied so that one parent does not see their child, the Family Court will expect alternatives such as regular video calling to be put in place.