Increased social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus raise questions for families with shared childcare arrangements about how to safely adhere to the rules, whilst also maintaining contact to an extent.
The current social distancing measures include working from home where possible, avoiding large and small gatherings in public spaces and not seeing family in other households. And for those who are vulnerable or at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus due to age or underlying health conditions the instructions are even more stringent.
But as social distancing policies become more widespread it raises concerns from parents about how to manage shared care of children during the Covid-19 pandemic. Head of Family Law Marilyn Bell answers important questions to help parents at this time.
What is the effect of the 23 March instructions from the Prime Minster on shared care of children when parents are separated?
The Prime Minster was very clear in saying that people would only be allowed to leave home for:
- shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- one form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household;
- any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person;
- and travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
However, more detailed guidance has now been received which includes clarifying that Children under 18 can see both parents even during the social distancing restrictions.
Senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
Mr Gove added, "Obviously we want to reduce the amount of movement as much as possible but for obvious reasons, for compassionate reasons, we want to make sure that children can move between parents' homes".
You can read more about the Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK via gov.uk here.
What if the parents live some way apart?
A The current situation is evolving daily and more detailed guidance may follow. In the meantime, consider what is in the best interest of the child/children and the instructions from the Prime Minister.
If the journey to the other parent involves a train journey, or a long car journey using motorway services it could be postponed, and changed for skype calls.
What about shared care during school closure?
A Parents will need to discuss this and agree a way forward. It should not be an assumption by one particular parent that the additional time the children are not at school should only be with one of them. Shared care will depend on either parents work, and whether either or both are ‘key workers’
What about helping the children with their on line school work
A Again this isn’t the province of either one parent and both can assist their children when they are with them.
Can children be left at home alone?
A There is no specific age when children can be left alone at home. Children cannot be put at risk and it is generally thought that a child under 12 would be at risk if left at home for a long period. A child under 16 cannot be left alone overnight.
Can one parent refuse to let the children leave home to go to the other parent?
A This would not fit with the current guidelines. The Court is familiar with scenarios where one parent is particularly anxious and that such anxiety should not prevent children spending time with both their parents.