The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant degree of uncertainty concerning contact arrangements for children of separated parents.
The Children Committee at Resolution (an organisation for Family lawyers throughout the United Kingdom) has sought clarification about contact arrangements where one parent lives abroad and the country in question is subject to quarantine restrictions in the United Kingdom. On arrival to the UK, what are the options for contact with their child whilst in self-isolation?
At present, the guidance provides that a child can travel between two households to facilitate contact arrangements within fourteen days of that child returning from a restricted country. However, there appears to be a lacuna where one parent lives in a restricted country and enters the UK for contact with their child. In situations where there is high degree of pre-existing conflict between the parents and in light of the forthcoming half-term holiday, Resolution sought to clarify the correct position to minimise the scope for dispute.
The Department for Transport (via the Ministry of Justice) has now clarified the guidance where either a child or a parent has returned to the UK from a restricted country and is subject to a fourteen day period of self-isolation:
i) A parent who accompanies a child on their return from a restricted country to the UK can leave self-isolation to handover the child to the other parent as part of contact arrangements.
ii) A child who is already in the UK can visit or stay with a parent who is in self-isolation, assuming that no other restrictions are breached (such as the rule of six) and subject to (iii) below.
iii) A parent visiting their child in the UK from a restricted country would not be exempt from self-isolation simply because they were in the UK to spend time with their child; that parent is not permitted to leave their address with the child for any reason (to include any recreational activities) other than to facilitate handover for the entire fourteen day period. In other words, the isolating parent and the child must spend their time together at the address at which the parent is in isolation.
This is helpful in confirming the parameters in place and managing expectations for parents in this situation, particularly as the list of countries that travellers from England can visit without encountering restrictions – either when they arrive at their destination or on their return - shrinks.
The UK government has now launched a ‘global travel taskforce’ to consider whether the quarantine period for people arriving in the UK can be reduced from fourteen days. If successful, this may provide some relief to parents returning from a restricted country or travelling to the UK with the sole purpose of seeing their child.
The taskforce will look at reducing this quarantine time with testing: it will assess both a single-test approach – a private test taken several days into the self-isolation period (expected to initially cost passengers around £150); and a double test, with an initial one taken on arrival. Various pilots and partnerships with other countries are also under consideration, including a period of quarantine pre-departure.