Lockdown 2021: how it affects child arrangements, divorce, separation and more
As a recently separated or divorced parent, you may be worried about how lockdown might affect existing child arrangements and/or access to your children in the coming weeks.
The good news is that important lessons have been learnt from the previous two lockdown, and the latest rules are more in tune and sympathetic towards modern family life than before.
With this in mind, we have written this article to address some of the most commonly faced issues for family clients.
Child Care Arrangements
Children can move freely between homes of their divorced and separated parents. If your child arrangements include children living at your home and at your ex partner’s home too, the children can move freely between both homes. You do not need to form a support bubble with your ex.
Compliance with a Child Arrangements Order (CAO)
The lockdown rules allow parents to continue with co-parenting arrangements within the scope of the guidelines. As The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice said:
“The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time.”
In essence, this means that your child arrangements can be varied due to Coronavirus restrictions, but any variation must be in the spirit of the order. The aim should always be to make “safe alternative arrangements for the child”. Do bear in mind that just because you can vary child arrangements, it doesn’t mean you should. As parents, you can both be called up by the court to explain your decisions. Remember, the welfare of the child is always paramount.
The current situation will inevitably involve you communicating with your ex, for example to establish the health of each household, results of any COVID tests or self-isolation requirements, and minimise the risk of infection. If such communication is problematic for you, call us. We can advise on key areas of disagreement, and if necessary, send correspondence to try and settle the issue. Call us to discuss your situation in your online 1-hour initial consultation with 30 minutes included free (terms and conditions apply).
Forming a support bubble
Becoming a single parent for the first time during a lockdown is especially hard. If you are separated, divorced, or just currently single, you can form a support bubble with one other local household, if:
- you have a child aged one or under
- you are a single parent with children aged under 18
- you live by yourself
You can stay overnight with your support bubble household.
Childcare bubbles are different from support bubbles. If you have children under the age of 14, you can form a childcare bubble to either provide or receive childcare from one other household. However, this is NOT a social bubble, and you “must” avoid seeing childcare and support bubbles together. Nannies are able to continue working in your home. If eligible, you can access registered childcare and activities if your child is Reception age or younger, or is vulnerable, or you are a critical worker.
All schools in England are currently closed, except for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. Students will be taught remotely until February half term. (We’ll be writing a blog on the challenges of home schooling with limited access to tech and broadband, with a list of resources for help.) Nurseries and childcare are open for pre-school/early years children
Domestic abuse protection
The guidance is very clear: “You may leave home, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse).”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, the time to act is NOW.
- Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women) or the ManKind confidential helpline 01823 334244 (men).
- Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.
- Download our domestic abuse helpline leaflet for more sources of help and support.
Remember, domestic abuse includes coercive abuse and control. You can approach your child’s school under the ‘vulnerable’ category to ensure your child can attend in person, to ensure they are not exposed to the abuse.
Courts in England and Wales are operating a dual system, with some cases being heard remotely via video links, and some being heard in person in a courtroom, albeit quite rare at the moment. At LGFL, we have the experience and technology to deal with all remote hearings. You are permitted to travel to a court hearing in person, and adult citizens will continue to be called up for jury service.
Working from home
The government rules state that: “Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.” It is worth talking to your employer to discuss providing robust tech that is also available for home schooling, in that you cannot work if the kids are using the bandwidth for online classes. You might need to talk to your employer about flexible working hours too if you are also dealing with childcare / home schooling, or an ongoing divorce or family law case.
If you are newly single, this may be a challenging task. Speaking to your ex partner about sharing this responsibility may help, especially over the next few weeks.
Selling your home
If you are selling your home as part of or as the result of a divorce, you can still sell and move during this lockdown. Estate agents, letting agents and removal firms are open for business, and you can view properties in person, subject to the usual social distancing rules. Be prepared that a house move could take longer due to changes in working methods for those involved, such as surveyors and new homes sales teams. Also be aware that the current guidance on home movingstates: “It may become necessary to pause all home moves locally or nationally for a short period of time to manage the spread of coronavirus.”
If you are getting divorced or are separating, the sale of your former matrimonial home can be one of your biggest worries. Remember also that there are stamp duty incentives currently in place. Up until 31st March 2021, you won't pay any stamp duty when selling your main residence for up to £500,000. Above £500,000 stamp duty is due at varying rates - there’s a handy stamp duty calculator at Money Saving Expert.
This reduced rate could be a strong incentive to stop matters drifting and move on with a sale. Equally, the end of the special rate in April could persuade anxious buyers of your home to complete before that date, despite the uncertainty ahead.
If you are looking to purchase a home, keep an eye on this date too. It offers significant savings and is particularly important where matrimonial finances are limited. At the time of writing in early January 2021, the Chancellor was giving no indications that the special stamp duty rate would be extended.
Legal services from LGFL
During the first lockdown, we moved all our family law services online within a couple of days, enabling us to work remotely and safely with all our clients. So, we are here to help you with any family law issue you may have, without the need to visit us in person.
Call us to arrange your initial 1-hour online consultation, which includes 30 minutes free, giving plenty of time to explore your situation and your options.
- Call us
- Email us