All change? Holiday child arrangements and COVID-19
Updated 31 March 2020
“Since this article was written, we’ve been asked lot of questions about Child Arrangements Orders and the current government restrictions on ‘unnecessary' travel.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove has made it clear that children under 18 could travel between households with the current restrictions, for the purposes of contact and spending time with the other parent. However, you must take into account whether you've got a Child Arrangements Order and that you could be in breach if you didn't comply with that.
So, for example if there is a self isolation situation or if there's a step family whereby the two households would be exposed to a potential risk, you need as parents to consider that, and make sensible decisions."
For more information see this useful guide from CAFCASS.
So, those carefully laid plans you made to take the children abroad to a specific country, or if they were due to visit a parent living abroad, may have to change.
Changes in permission
If you plan to take your children abroad, and have shared parental responsibility with your ex, you must seek their permission to take your children out of the country, even for just a short break. Taking children abroad without permission is child abduction in the eyes of the law.
If you have a Child Arrangement Order stating the children should live with you, you are able to remove them from the country without permission for *less than* one month. After that time, you will need permission.
If your ex has already given permission in writing for a holiday abroad, and the travel plans change in terms of dates, destination or duration, you’ll need to get their permission for the new changes. If you are going to now spend the holidays in the UK, not abroad, you’ll need to inform your ex about these changes too.
We would also say in the interests of coparenting at this time, parents should prioritise their children’s welfare by open discussions wherever possible, and respect people’s wishes about travel guidance. You can find out the latest information on travel abroad at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus .
Government restrictions and COVID-19
At the time of writing, the government’s “balanced response” is at the Containment phase, but may move more into the Delay phase over the next few days. The government has said it will take actions with “social impact” if required, and reports suggest this might include school closures and more self-isolation for adults.
So, it would be wise, as co-parents, to work out between you what might happen if the kids suddenly have four weeks’ holiday instead of two, or one of you has to self-isolate over a contact weekend. You can add this in a new or existing child arrangement letter in general terms, but there is little point is being too Draconian as we simply don’t know yet what government measures will be taken, if any.
Need to make changes to an existing agreement?
If you have a child arrangement letter already in place, call us to discuss amending it. If you haven’t made child arrangements yet, contact us - there is still plenty of time.
Five benefits of a formal child arrangement agreement
- A child arrangement letter cuts down the conversations required between you and your ex.
- It avoids lengthy email exchanges or telephone calls where it’s all to easy to misunderstand what has been arranged and for when.
- It is impartial and comes via a third party (us).
- All your ex needs to do is reply in writing agreeing to the arrangements, and you’re ready to go.
- Child arrangement agreements can be shown to border staff if required. (More on this below).
Travelling abroad? Take your letter with you
If you are travelling with children that do not share your surname, a child arrangement agreement is very useful to have if border staff wish to clarify their relationship to you. As the UK has officially left the EU, passport control procedures now vary across the EU and you may find yourself under closer scrutiny (and in a longer queue) than before.
Make sure you have the children’s passports in plenty of time for travel, that all passports are up to date, and have at least six months before they expire. Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will still be valid until 31 December 2020, but as the NHS website says:
“An EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance. Make sure you have both before you travel.”
Court Orders for visits abroad
Your ex may decide not to give permission for you to take children abroad, just as you can refuse permission for them to do the same. In such a case, either parent can apply for a Specific Issue Order. This is a court order that determines a specific issue concerning Parental Responsibility. The court will determine if the holiday is in the child’s best interests.
A court is unlikely to rule against a visit to a country that is a member of the Hague Convention. However, it may rule against visits to other countries are not thought to be safe, which might include those with COVID-19 related restrictions. Equally, you can apply for the Order if there is a risk that your ex-spouse may not return the children back to the UK.
Child arrangement agreements by phone or Skype
At LGFL, we aim to make it as easy as possible to access the legal advice and services you need. If you are concerned about visiting our offices in person, let us first reassure you that we have had zero cases of corona virus amongst our business centre community at this time.
If you wish, you can bypass the shared reception area at Wyvols Court (we will sign in for you), and come in via our back door. It’s not very glamorous, but it does give direct access from the outside car park to our own dedicated office area.
Do feel free to phone us to discuss your requirements, or set up a Skype call so we can talk via video link at our standard meeting rates (internet access required and charges may apply).