As ever – not legal advice. Doing my best here in difficult circumstances.
This is just a holding post (and supercedes my earlier post really, though there may still be something of use there – see here). There is little to report at present, and I will post more when more is available and when things are better understood.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE : Full government advice on what ‘staying at home’ means now published here. Now includes clarification that moving children under 18 between their parents’ homes is permitted. (This was originally added in a footnote but is now in the main body of the guidance). The President of the Family Division has issued guidance here.]
So, it looks like the new rules don’t stop existing child arrangements happening, if of course they can be done safely].
As best I can tell tonight from looking at existing legislation, the Coronavirus Bill that is still going through Parliament (it’s not yet been passed so it isn’t law YET), and the emergency regulations already published :
- there are powers in place to do some of things announced last week, like the closing of businesses and schools
- there are NOT yet powers in place to underpin what was announced tonight by the PM in terms of staying at home and fines if you don’t
- those powers will probably be in place very soon either through the Coronavirus Bill OR regulations made under the Civil Contingencies Act
- it is sensible and morally right to comply as best you can with the new rules announced by the PM regardless – for your own sake, the sake of your child and their other parent, and for the sake of the country at large.
(I’m not going to post links to all the different lawyers on twitter and their different explanations of this because this is not a post for lawyers. It’s just a post trying to help those asking me really tough and quite urgent questions – should I send my kids tonight?)
To a lawyer, the PM’s announcement begs a lot of questions – we are looking for definitions so we can work out what is and is not allowed. Parents are asking questions that are in desperate search for a definition at the moment – on twitter and social media forums, to me via DM, email, whatsapp and messenger.
Parents want to know when will I see my child again? Can I allow my child to see their other parent right now? Will I be in breach of the court order that says there will be regular contact or that the child lives with both of us?
What they need most of all to know is : When the government says ‘stay home’ – what if a child has two homes? Can they go to the other home / come to my home? What they really need to know is the definition of ‘home’?
And what they really need to know is – how should they make decisions about this until its clarified (knowing that if the child goes to the other parent tonight they might not be able to get them back for at least 3 weeks, likely much longer).
The answer tonight I’m afraid is – I don’t know.
My view is that it’s unlikely anyone is going to be in trouble for breaching an order right now. Everyone is trying to make sense of an impossible situation. Just try and focus on safety first. Already I am seeing cases of children who have been moving between two household where someone in one household is coughing and the parents are struggling to agree how to deal with it. There will be many such cases.
You may take the view that if your child has had recent contact with both parents both households are likely to be in the same boat as far as contamination is concerned – but that is not necessarily so. You may be spreading infection if you move a child between houses. Children themselves (if healthy) may be at low risk, but many of their parents and grandparents are not in the same category. Those are members of your child’s family. It’s a tough call. I’m lucky both of my children are in the same household as me, and have both their parents together. I don’t doubt this is acutely difficult. Please make sure if your kids are without contact to parts of their family for a while that you find ways for them to keep in touch.
I know that in Spain there is a specific exception for chlidren who move between two households (see here : https://twitter.com/umadouma/status/1241874952015556611?s=11 – for some reason tweets aren’t embedding properly right now so I’ll post a screengrab. In the circumstances I hope the original tweeter won’t mind). I have no idea if the government here will endorse a similar approach or not. I have no idea whether or not the drafters of any regulations have even considered it. I can’t see anything in the draft regulations that covers it, so if it is covered it will have to be in regulations I think.
I’ve just seen one tweet thread between a dad who has made the hard decision not to see his children to protect them and others, and a mother who has decided she ought to transport her children to their dad’s by car, since both households are working from home / isolated and she feels the risk can be managed. As the dad correctly points out – that works for her family, but might not be sensible or possible in families where one parent is working in the community or is dependent on public transport. Both are sensible approaches based on the circumstances in their family. Whether or not the mother will be permitted to make her journeys so her kids can see their dad or not is less clear. Whatever decisions you and your ex make about these things, try not to be too critical of them, try to think about their position. Try and focus on the positives. Work together. Be safe.
More when I have it.
PS Please don’t message me asking for advice about your individual case. I really can’t give it. Please share this post, subscribe to updates / emails and check back.