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Coronavirus - Guidance for Parents Who Share Care

Guidance for parents who share care of their children

At the time of writing (31st March 2020) the Government rules on staying at home can be seen here http://www.gov.uk/goverment/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/ . In other words, the Government rules say you should only leave the house for limited purposes, namely:

  • shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be 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, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.

These reasons are exceptions to the ‘stay at home’ rule. Even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

These measures must be followed by everyone. Separate advice is available for individuals or households who are isolating, and for the most vulnerable who need to be shielded. 

These reasons are exceptions to the ‘stay at home’ rule. Even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

These measures must be followed by everyone. Separate advice is available for individuals or households who are isolating, and for the most vulnerable who need to be shielded. 

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

In other words, parents who share care of their children, whether they share their care in terms of the legislation (the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 as amended and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995) or in terms of a written Agreement or court order, can continue to share the care of their children.

The Government has clarified that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes where their parents do not live together in the same household.

You can leave your home to take or uplift children for contact. However you must follow the rules to socially distance yourself from others, keeping 2 metres apart from those from outwith your household and minimise the time spent out of your home.  

The above is of course subject to the exception that if you or anyone else in your household has the symptoms of COVID-19 then you and your entire household should follow the rules on self-isolation and stay at home for the appropriate period. 

Also those who have underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable should make sure that they follow the rules on “shielding”. 

The country is in the middle of a public health crisis on an unprecedented scale.  The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their children and deciding where and with whom their child or children spends time.  

The stay at home rules have made the general position clear that it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child or children, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical needs, or attending essential work.  

Perhaps the best way to deal with these difficult times will be for parents to communicate with one another about their concerns, and what they think would be a good, practical solution.  Many people are worried about coronavirus and the health of themselves, their children and their extended family.  Even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.  

Parents may consider taking advice from their solicitor if they are seeking to temporarily vary contact which might be set out in writing between the parties.  It may be sensible and in the interests of the health of the parents or children to make such variation arrangements.  Parents can record their agreement to variation in a written note, email, or text message sent to each other.  Parents may take advice from their solicitor and if, after the event, parents cannot agree, it may be that one parent decides to exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to ones that they consider to be safe.  The courts can look at these situations depending on the facts and circumstances of each case at a later date if absolutely necessary.

I expect that if contact does not take place as a result of parental agreement, or if as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements a child does not get to spend time with the other parent, the courts would expect alternative arrangements to have been made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the stay at home rules, for example remotely by Facetime, WhatsApp video calling, Skype, or other video connection or if that is not possible, by telephone.  The facts and circumstances will vary of course in each and every individual situation.  

Should you wish to discuss your individual situation then you may email me at Enable JavaScript to view protected content. or my colleague Sally McCartney at Enable JavaScript to view protected content.

We are able to assist  remotely by email during this period of self-isolation and social distancing.

Finally, you may find guidance or assistance on some of the following websites:-

www.kippencampbell.com

www.familylawassociation.org

www.consensus-scotland.com

www.calmscotland.co.uk 

www.relationships-scotland.org.uk

Susan Wightman
Partner
Law Society of Scotland Accredited Specialist in Family Law


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