Christmas, Covid and separation: what are the rules around taking children away from home?

09/12/2020

With it widely accepted that Christmas 2020 will be far from normal for everyone and with many needing to make difficult choices around how to celebrate with friends and family, Rachel Bloxwich from our specialist family law team has highlighted what the latest lockdown measures mean for separated parents and access to their children over the festive period.

At the best of times, the issue of how separated parents should share time with their children at Christmas can be a tense conversation to have. Both parents will naturally want to spend Christmas day with their loved ones and their children, but this can become complicated when they do not live in the same town or city or if they have to travel to visit relatives.

What happens at Christmas varies greatly from family to family, and there is no automatic right in law to see your children on Christmas Day. Given the courts are generally reluctant to intervene in such matters, you must come to an agreement with your former partner. The courts will only become involved after other methods of resolution have been exhausted.

A study in 2014 found that the way in which separated parents approach this decision can vary greatly. 23% spend Christmas Day together for the sake of the children; 28% take turns each year; 15% of parents opt to allow children to spend Christmas Day with their primary caregiver; whilst 14% let the children choose, and 11% of children with separated parents simply have ‘two Christmas Days’.

This year, of course, that is further complicated by the impact of Covid-19 and possible restrictions depending on where you’re located and when you wish to have access to your children.

Whilst non-essential travel has generally been discouraged, there isn’t currently a blanket travel ban and even during the most recent month-long lockdown in England, one of the exemptions recognised as a reason to travel has been “for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and a child where the child does not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents”. As a result, children are allowed to move between the homes of separated parents, even if they live in different cities or towns.

Where living and contact arrangements for a child are subject to a child arrangement order (or contact order in Scotland and Northern Ireland), it has been recognised that parents may face difficulties in adhering to such orders during the pandemic. As a result, the President of the Family Division of the High Court has issued guidance to help parents decide how arrangements can be maintained during this time. Even if it is not possible to keep to the exact terms of an order, it is expected that parents will agree to adhere to the spirit of the order and make changes that keep families safe but enable children to maintain a relationship with both parents.

An added factor to consider since the Government announced a five-day relaxation of restrictions between December 23 and 27, is how separated parents will manage arrangements for their children in the wider mix of the three group bubble that has been agreed across all the home nations, not least of all as the bubbles must be fixed and cannot be swapped in and out during the five-day period. The Government has confirmed that children moving between the homes of separated parents can move between the Christmas bubbles of their two households.

Rachel specialises in all aspects of family law and has gained extensive knowledge in divorce and separation cases, financial matters and can advise on the arrangements for children.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised above, Rachel can be contacted using the details below.

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