What are the rules around taking children away from home this Christmas?

Mandeep Clair

Article written by Mandeep Clair, Solicitor, Family department

For a number of parents, the issue of spending time with their children at Christmas can be tense. Both parents wish 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, COVID-19 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 COVID-19 for separated parents.

Do I have a right to see my children at Christmas?

A 2014 study of separated parents 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.

Are you allowed to travel to meet family at Christmas?

COVID 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 COVID-19 cases.

Can children move between the homes of separated parents?

In England, as of 5th November 2020, you may not leave your home without reasonable cause. There is a list of permitted reasons in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.4) Regulations 2020. As a result, children are allowed to move between the homes of separated parents, even if they live in different cities or towns.

Do child arrangements orders/contact orders apply during COVID restrictions?

A child arrangements order 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 COVID-19 outbreak, the President of the Family Division of the High Court has 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.

If you have any concerns regarding child arrangement orders in the build up to Christmas, please feel free to contact me via email or call us on 020 8858 6971.