The government has addressed some key questions regarding the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on separated families by publishing new guidance, which can be found in the House of Commons BRIEFING PAPER Number CBP 8901, 15 October 2020.
Whilst the paper does not address the specific circumstances of any individual or family, and local restrictions should be reviewed and checked regularly due to the fast-changing guidance being issued, it does seek to clarify how children can move between the homes of separated parents.
In England, local COVID alert levels of Medium (Tier 1), High (Tier 2), or Very High (Tier 3), are in place from 14 October 2020. Individuals should also check whether additional local restrictions are in place in their area. Under the rules at each alert level there is an exception to the restrictions on meeting family and friends where the gathering is necessary “for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents”. A child is defined as a person under the age of 18.
In response to the initial UK Government guidance issued in March 2020, the President of the Family Division of the High Court (England and Wales) noted that the guidance does not mean that children must move between homes, the decision being one for parents to take after assessing their circumstances.
The Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23 March 2020 deals specifically with child contact arrangements.
It said: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
This establishes an exception to the mandatory ‘stay at home’ requirement; it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make 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.
The guidance from the Family Division has not since been updated and therefore the exception to the stay at home rule can apply to moving children between tiers subject to the sensible risk assessment expressed above. Children can therefore travel to different “tiers” as children were of course allowed to move between the homes of separated parents even during the peak of lockdown in March 2020. This is an ever-evolving issue and such information is correct at the time of publication.
Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.