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Children (under-18) of separated parents will be permitted to travel between households during the imposed COVID-19 lockdown, Michael Gove has clarified this week.

On Monday (23rd March 2020) Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced nationwide restrictions on movement to limit the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the following four exceptions:

  1. Shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible
  2. One form of exercise per day alone or with one member of your household
  3. Any medical need, or to provide care or help a vulnerable person
  4. Travelling to or from work, only if absolutely necessary and not able to be done from home

It has since been clarified that, where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 may be moved between parents’ homes as has been agreed in order to continue the routine for spending time with each parent.

Whilst travel is permitted for these purposes, where possible this should be done by car and avoiding public transport. If it is necessary to utilise public transport, parents and children should follow the social distancing and hygiene guidelines to minimise the chance of catching or spreading the virus:

  • maintain 2m distance between other travellers
  • wash hands before leaving and when arriving home/use hand sanitiser where available
  • avoid touching the face or eyes with unwashed hands

For parents who have genuine concerns that maintaining their children’s usual routine of spending time with the other parent is currently not safe, particularly those with Court Orders in place, The President of the Family Division The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane issued guidance yesterday to confirm that this does not mean that children must move between homes.  This is a matter for parental judgement “after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.”

If as parents you discuss your concerns and come to an alternative temporary arrangement in the best interests of the children and other family members it is open to you both to agree to effectively vary the Order.  It would be sensible in such circumstances, the guidance suggests “to record such an agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other”.

In the event one parent has genuine concerns that the usual child arrangements cannot to complied with because to do so would be against current advice from the government and health authorities they may choose to exercise their parental responsibility to change the arrangements under the Order to arrangements that are safe.  If the other parent questions the same before the Court at a later date the guidance suggests that “the Court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family”.

If the usual arrangements cannot safely take place it will be important that suitable alternative arrangements are established such as regular remote contact utilising Skype, Face-Time or suitable alternatives until face to face arrangements can safely resume.

We are facing an unprecedented situation and parents are being urged to communicate with one another and to act in a way that puts the health and safety of the children and all other family members at the forefront.

Further information about how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during the Coronavirus outbreak, keep up to date with government advice and guidelines.

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