(November 2020) For many parents, the issue of spending time with children at Christmas can be tense. Both parents want to spend Christmas day with their loved ones and their children, but this becomes complicated when they do not live in the same town or city or if they have to travel to visit relatives. In addition, coronavirus restrictions may mean that travel and visiting relatives is not advised or even permitted. In this article, we look at some of the key issues and questions surrounding, Christmas and coronavirus for separated parents.
In a 2014 study of separated parents, it was found that 23% of separated couples spend Christmas Day together, 28% take turns each year, and 15% of parents opt to allow children to spend Christmas Day with their primary caregiver. Furthermore, 14% let the children choose, and 11% of children with separated parents have ‘two Christmas Days’.
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. You must come to an agreement with your former partner about the arrangements. The courts are reluctant to intervene in such matters and will only become involved after other methods of resolution have been exhausted.
Coronavirus restrictions are updated regularly in line with the threat of the virus. Non-essential travel is generally discouraged, but there is currently no travel ban in place. The only travel restrictions in effect at the moment are between Wales and any other areas of the UK that have high levels of coronavirus.
In England, as of 5th November 2020, you may not leave your home without reasonable excuse. There is a list of permitted reasons in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.4) Regulations 2020. The list includes:
“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.
A child arrangements order (contact order in Scotland and NI) is an order which regulates where a child lives and when they must spend time with each of their parents. In light of the difficulty parents may face in adhering to such orders during the coronavirus outbreak, the President of the Family Division of the High Court issued guidance for parents. The guidance sets out that parents are free to decide whether any arrangements set out in a child arrangements order should be temporarily changed. However, parents must act in agreement to do so.