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Are Borders Barriers to Contact? Separated International Families in a Time of Coronavirus

In: Family Law News

Are Borders Barriers to Contact?

Separated International Families in a Time of Coronavirus

Living through a pandemic has raised challenges for all of us in our daily lives as we navigate living with restrictions to our movements and social interactions in an attempt to hedge the spread of the Coronavirus and keep our loved ones safe. The year 2020 has been one for the books – of every genre.

Fitting into a mixture of genres (take your pick of nonfiction, drama, fantasy perhaps even mystery or horror) are living the many separated families, with children who live between two homes. The challenges this posed for both children and their separated parents in a pre-pandemic world weighed heavily enough on their own. Now added in to the mix is the need to navigate any applicable restrictions relating to the pandemic, effectively interpreting a moving target (ie evolving restrictions) and making measured decisions about what is safest for the children and the members of the respective households being moved between.

What about separated international families?

A particularly opaque question is left for the parents in separated international families to answer with respect to navigating contact with their children between homes where both parents live in different jurisdictions. In an increasingly connected, mobile and flexible world of travel, the UK itself comprises four nations with different legal jurisdictions with different measures in place in response to the pandemic. Immediately accessible to continental Europe, we now live in a world where the parents of separated families may well live in different countries altogether while maintaining regular contact regimes with both parents.

Are borders barriers to contact?

In a time of Coronavirus, therefore, are borders barriers to contact for parents with their children where different legal jurisdictions are involved? Amid full-out lockdowns and general travel bans, on the surface it may seem there is a closed book answer to this question however it is more nuanced than is perhaps readily apparent.

There is no one catch-all answer, however, the following considerations and tips should assist in evaluating whether or not regular international travel for the purposes of contact is still possible.

During England’s first lockdown, Goodman Ray reported on ways to navigate child arrangements for separated families, in general terms, in light of the pandemic. Here, we look more specifically at the added challenge of borders as potential barriers to contact to determine how separated international families can maintain contact where one parent needs to travel to the UK for contact.

  1. Does the UK allow for movement/travel for the purposes of contact?

In the United Kingdom, there are a number of legislative tools in place to govern the UK’s response to the pandemic.  The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 is a statutory instrument that deals with various aspects of the pandemic. Part 2 deals with restrictions on movement.

Notably, there are exemptions to the restriction of movement where the movement is for the purposes of fulfilling a legal obligation [paragraph 6(4)(e)] and for contact where the child does not live in the same household as their parent(s) [paragraph 6(12)(a)].

Movement is therefore not restricted for the purposes of facilitating contact between homes and/or the fulfilment of a legal obligation, which can be interpreted to include the terms of a Child Arrangements Order.

  1. Consider the other jurisdiction

It is important to understand the interaction of the Coronavirus rules between the UK and any other jurisdiction involved for you. Most jurisdictions now have dedicated websites and helplines for understanding the rules and their application for you to contact if anything is unclear. Seeking advice via email can be more expedient with the numbers of people working from home, with the added benefit that your answer will be in writing. If the response comes in a language that is not English, it would be helpful to produce a translation of the response prior to entering the UK.

  1. To Do’s If and When You Travel for the Purpose of Contact
  • Check the rules on quarantine, self-isolation and support bubbles. Where your purpose of travel to the UK is the fulfilment of a legal obligation for contact, there should not be a requirement on you or your children to quarantine or isolate. You can find out more about childcare bubbles and support bubbles, here.
  • Ensure that you complete the requisite passenger locator form in advance to avoid any potential issues and indicate, where applicable, that you are travelling pursuant to fulfilling legal obligations under an Order.
  • Bring a copy of any applicable Order with you under which you are travelling to take up your contact with your child.

It is important to note that restrictions and regulations do change and they can do so quickly. However, what is hopefully apparent is that there are ways for contact for international separated families to proceed, even in a time of Coronavirus.

As stated above, more general considerations around making decisions on the safety considerations of proceeding with contact between different homes, questions to consider and precautions to take can be read here.

Should you require advice on international movement for contact with your children during this uncertain time, we at Goodman Ray would be pleased to assist you and can be reached at 020 7608 1227 or


Hannah Lamb