Guidance from the President of the Family Division

The Family Court and COVID-19: The Road Ahead

9 June 2020

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has today published ‘The Road Ahead’ for the Family Court in England and Wales.

We have reached a juncture in the Family Court’s journey through the COVID 19 crisis when it is both possible and necessary to take stock and to consider the road ahead. It is possible to do this because, in contrast to the early weeks, there is now a bedrock of experience of remote working. This experience, both positive and negative, was in large part described and teased out in the enormously valuable and impressive report published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory on remote hearings in the Family Court in early May 2020. It is necessary to look at the road ahead because any earlier rose-tinted thoughts that ‘this will all be over by July’ have sadly evaporated and it is now clear that, whilst the situation of total lockdown may be gradually relaxed, the need for stringent social distancing restrictions is likely to remain for many months to come.

This document seeks to establish a broad framework for the Family Court by attempting to chart the road ahead over the next six months or more.

 

Guidance sent to NACCC accredited child contact centres

25 March 2020

The President has issued guidance on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders. 

It is acknowledged that although this guidance deals with Child Arrangement Orders (CAO), not all families are subject to these orders and therefore the guidance will apply to all face to face contact.  

"The country is in the middle of a public health crisis on an unprecedented scale.  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.  Parents must abide by the ‘Rules to Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23rd March.  In addition to these Rules, advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of infection has been issued and updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales.”

“The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear; it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.” 

“Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says, "Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ home". This establishes an exception to the mandatory stay at home requirement; it does not however, mean that children must be moved between homes.  The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the parents to make after an assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection, and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in the household."

NACCC has made representation to the President regarding children who are not able to visit parents at home, but at child contact centres. We have asked if arrangements could be made where there could be some flexibility. The message received has been clear, that children should "Stay at Home".  The existing lock-down is for three weeks. During this time NACCC will see if there is a safe solution to this situation, by working out arrangements that would keep people safe whilst also being able to keep contact arrangements intact.  

The President’s guidance does encourage parents to communicate with one another and find practical solutions.  We know that this can be difficult for some of the parents using child contact centres and it may be that centres can help in this area using the guidance sent recently on use of technology.  

The key message from the President is that where coronavirus restrictions cause the contact arrangements to be varied, there should be safe alternative arrangements for the child.  

The Remote Access Family Court (version 3)

Update as at 3 April 2020

Please see details below of a paper prepared by Mr Justice MacDonald in response to the current Coronavirus situation. Please note that this document will be subject to regular amendment and re-issue. The aim of this document is to identify clearly the current problems which arise from the urgent need to move to a default position of remote hearings, to identify potential solutions to those problems and to set out operational protocols to govern the position whilst further solutions are being arrived at.

To download the paper please click on the Adobe Reader icon below. If you do not have the correct software installed then you can download free viewers. ( PDF Reader )

The Remote Access Family Court

Mr Justice MacDonald, Courts and Tribunals Judiciary
(3 April 2020 - version 3. This document will be subject to regular amendment and reiusse)