June 2020 will bring the phased return to school for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 with the plan that a few weeks later Years 10 and 12 (those students who are due to sit GCSE and A-Level exams summer 2021) will also return to school. We do not yet know when other children will return to school and whether that will happen before the end of the summer term. [Note – Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have different plans].
Covid-19 has, sadly, created flashpoints for separated families. Some children have been prevented from spending time with mum or dad when one parent. The President of the Family Courts issued strong guidance early into lockdown to confirm that any parent who sought to stop a child having a continuing relationship with their non-resident parent would be strongly dealt with by the courts.
The re-opening of schools brings a potential flashpoint as inevitably parents will have different views about whether their child should return to school or not. The government has confirmed that any parents who decide not to send their children to school will not be prosecuted. There are a variety of reasons parents may choose not to send their child to school such as:
· parents with underlying health issues could prevent a child from attending school for fear of infection; or
· some children will have health issues that mean they at risk so won’t return to school; or
· parents who have children in different school years may decide to keep all siblings at home as schools have said they can only have children in limited school years return for now.
What solutions are there if you and your former partner don’t agree on whether your child should return to school? This is an example of where parental responsibility and the different approaches two parents might take becomes an issue. Oftentimes, parents can reach an agreement that is in the best interests of their child.
Where there is a dispute you must keep in mind that a court will look at the guidance provided by the government and the approach taken by your local authority and school. Broadly, if it is felt that it is safe for a child to return to school, and there are no exceptional circumstances that would make it unsafe for your child or the extended family, then the court is likely to come to that decision too.
What if you are not able to negotiate an agreement?
1. Think about using mediation so that you and your former partner can agree on a plan.
2. If mediation is not suitable, speak with a family solicitor to get legal advice. Do you need to apply to a court or are there other alternatives?
3. Is your case suitable for arbitration? (This is a decision made by someone with the same authority as a judge but the process is faster and, on average, cheaper than traditional litigation). A solicitor will explain to you how this works.
If you would like to talk to someone, please contact any of our offices.