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Family Proceedings: Coronavirus

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what guidance he has provided to people who have orders in place through the family courts that stipulate limited contact with children during the covid-19 outbreak where contact cannot be granted due to self-isolation; whether court orders in such circumstances would be classed as a breach; and whether contact arrangements can be changed due to the need to self-isolate in family groups.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government has published on gov.uk updated guidance on staying at home and away from others, which everyone must follow. This makes clear that children can if necessary move between parents living in different households, subject to the Government’s guidance on what to do if self-isolating or shielding and protecting people who are defined as vulnerable.

Compliance with court orders is ordinarily a matter for the courts. In general, a parent who is required by a Child Arrangements Order to facilitate contact between their child and the other parent should continue to do so where this is practicable and consistent with the Government’s revised guidance. Where either parent is reasonably self-isolating or genuinely protecting someone vulnerable (provided that this is in line with Government advice in either case) then remote technology offers temporary alternative means by which to facilitate contact via telephone, the internet or social media which should be used.

Any person named in a Child Arrangements Order may apply to the court to vary the terms of that order, but this should not be necessary if a parent is following the Government’s guidance. If an alleged breach of a Child Arrangements Order or other application is later brought to court then this will be for judicial consideration. The Government encourages parents to adopt a pragmatic approach. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has published helpful advice for families on effective co-parenting and child arrangements which is available at https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/

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