As we all know by now, the rules can change very rapidly, so the information in this article is based on the information available on 5 January 2021.
The headline is that the new Regulations continue to allow an exception to the restrictions on movement in order to "participate in or facilitate shared parenting arrangements". As of 5 January 2021, it is prohibited in Scotland to leave the premises in which you live (which includes your garden, garage, close and so on) if you live in a Level 4 area, which everyone in mainland Scotland now does. However, it remains a "reasonable excuse" to do so in order to exercise contact with your child, which means that it is not an offence to leave your home for this purpose. If you or your child live in England, it is also a "reasonable excuse" in terms of the Scottish regulations to leave/enter England to/from Scotland for the purposes of shared parenting.
It is also lawful to leave your home to visit another member of an extended household within Scotland, so if you are the parent with residence of your child and have been in a 'bubble' with someone living on their own, you can continue. You can also go out to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, such as an elderly relative. Otherwise, however, the maximum limit on indoor or outdoor gatherings in a Level 4 area is now two persons from different households. The police have been given a new power to enforce this by using 'reasonable force' to return people to their homes if necessary.
You can also leave your home to "access, provide or receive childcare, education or training," including parenting support, and to access social service support and/or support from the voluntary sector, if you cannot do so from home. However, schools in Scotland have been closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers (these terms are not defined within the Regulations, although definitions are provided in Government guidance). The practical reality for some families may be that existing contact arrangements have to be temporarily altered depending on working patterns and employers' flexibility. The latest guidance from the courts remains that parents should adhere to court orders in relation to children but can, if they both agree, vary these arrangements as appropriate (e.g. if one parent is shielding).
If you are involved in court proceedings, family-related or otherwise, it is also permissible to leave home for the purposes of meeting a legal obligation or participating in legal proceedings if you cannot do so from home. In practice, all the court hearings in my diary over the next few weeks are being conducted over videoconference or the telephone, and the court service has indicated today that this approach is to continue.
Most of us will have been hoping that the New Year would see a relaxation of the restrictions rather than a tightening, and many parents will be feeling especially daunted by the idea of a further prolonged period of home schooling, perhaps combined with worries about caring for vulnerable older relatives. These emotional pressures and demands on energy levels can make it even more difficult to resolve conflicts about your children. On a practical level, too, you may be struggling to balance your respective work and other commitments with home schooling and managing how children move safely between two households. These problems are not always easy to resolve and if you are having difficulties in relation to arrangements for children, then in terms of the law it's much better to address these early. If you are having difficulties, you are not alone, so please contact us to discuss how we can help.