Child Contact Arrangements During The Coronavirus Crisis.

Sharon Blackstone
Solicitor, Mediator and Collaborative Practitioner
4 January 2022

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we were all instructed to ‘’stay at home.’’ This was subject to limited exceptions and we received guidance from the senior Family Judge in England, Sir Andrew McFarlane, as to how the Government’s rules should be applied when dealing with the arrangements for the children of separated parents.


The parental responsibility (legal rights and duties of being a parent) remain with the parents and not the Court. The expectation is that parents will act sensibly and safely when making decisions about the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom the child will spend their time. The Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules in March 2020 dealt specifically with child contact arrangements and stated:-

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

The senior Family Judge explained in 2020 that this was an exception to the Stay at Home Rules but it did not mean that children MUST be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parents’ homes is for the parents to make after 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 another.

Sir Andrew McFarlane went on to say that generally, the best way to deal with these difficult issues is for the parents to communicate with one another about their worries and what they think would be a good, practical solution. Even if some parents think it is safe for contact take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.

While we are no longer subject to the ‘ Stay at Home’ restrictions as imposed in March 2020, the advice and guidance given by Sir Andrew MacFarlane at the start of the pandemic still applies now. Therefore children should continue to spend time with their non-resident parent and both parents should try and agree the necessary arrangements, having regard to the relevant considerations applying to their children and families.



Where there is an existing child arrangements order, it is open to the parents, exercising their parental responsibility, to agree that the contact arrangements in the order are temporarily varied in such way as they may agree. If this happens, it is sensible for the parents to record the agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other.

Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements for contact set out in an existing child arrangements order and one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the order will be against the advice of Public Health England, that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to those which they consider to be safe. If these actions are subsequently referred to the Court, the Court is likely to consider whether each parent has acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or the family.

The Senior Judge has also stated that where either as result of parental agreement, or as result of one parent varying the arrangements in an order on their own, a child is not to spend time with the other parent as stipulated in an Order, the Court will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent for example by FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other video platforms, but if these are not possible, by telephone.

The key message is that where issues arising from the pandemic cause the terms of a Court Order to be varied, the spirit of the Order should nevertheless be delivered by making other safe arrangements for the child.

There may well be numerous situations where parents cannot agree the arrangements for a child or children to see the non-resident parent, either in accordance with informal arrangements which have taken place by consent until now or, under the terms of an existing child arrangements order. Mediation can be a good way of talking through and resolving the issues with the assistance of a neutral mediator. Alternatively, you may require advice about your particular situation and we have advised and acted in numerous cases where issues relating to children have come to a head as a result of the pandemic.

We can provide advice in an initial free telephone consultation or in a video or face to face meeting. You will be charged for a video or face to face meeting.

If we may be of help you in these difficult times, please contact us.