New covid strain cancels Christmas, what does this mean for separated and divorced parents?
Fears around London’s fast-rising coronavirus transmission rate has seen London, the South East, and the East of England waking up in Tier 4 this morning. Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a press conference announced the move to Tier 4 – a brand new addition to the UK’s previous three-tiered system, that features even more restrictive measures to keep the population safe. But what does this mean for separated and divorced parents?
What does Tier 4 mean?
The key points are:
- Residents must stay at home unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons.
- We should not enter or leave Tier 4 areas.
- Support bubbles are unaffected, as are rules for separated parents and children.
- Non-essential retail shops and indoor gyms must close.
These measures will last for two weeks and will be reviewed by the government on December 30. Last night the media reported that railway stations and roads were packed with people trying to leave the capital before midnight to avoid facing arrest for breaching Tier 4 rules.
Why have we moved to Tier 4?
A new strain of Covid-19 was discovered in September that “maybe up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant”, said England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty. Cases have been increasing rapidly across the South East, and the new lockdown is the latest effort to slow its spread.
What about Christmas?
Johnson stated that “we cannot continue with Christmas as planned”. In Tier 4, the rules around staying home and entering/leaving Tier 4 areas mean that households should not mix over Christmas. And while Tier 4 areas will see a change to the Christmas bubble rules, they won’t be the only area facing a drastically different Christmas.
For the rest of England, the previous exemptions which would have allowed three households to meet from December 23-27 have been changed, with gatherings now limited to one day: December 25. So, if you’re in planning to see family over the holidays, Christmas Day will be your only chance to mix indoors as three households.
What does this mean for separated and divorced parents?
The rules remain unchanged from previous Government guidance, that state that children under 18 can be moved between parents. This establishes an exception to the ‘stay at home’ requirement, but it does not mean that children must be moved between homes.
The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after a 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 the other.
How should parents comply with court orders for contact?
The High Court issued national guidance for parents whose children are the subject of Child Arrangement Orders made by the Family Court.
This guidance states that parents, acting in agreement, are free to decide that the arrangements set out in a child arrangements order should be temporarily changed.
In situations where parents disagree, the guidance states that a parent may exercise their parental responsibility and temporarily change the arrangement to one that they consider being safe. But, if the parent making the change is questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court will look to see whether each parent 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 family.
If a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the Child Arrangement Order, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to maintain regular contact, such as video or phone calls.
Can I still get divorced during lockdown?
Yes, you can. Court staff and judges are working from home, and most hearings are being done remotely. In most divorce cases, a hearing is not needed.
Couples will only have to go to court if disputes regarding financial matters or children that cannot be resolved by the separated couple. So, the easiest and quickest way to divorce is use an online divorce company like Easy Online Divorce. You can find out more about fast and affordable services here.