Parenting During Pandemic
Parenting with a former spouse can be difficult and stressful for a parent in the normal course of a separation. Adding to that conflict is the recent health pandemic affecting the world. As many of my fellow colleagues will tell you, we have been contacted by parents who want direction as to how to address parenting during the COVID-19 crisis.
Despite only a few short weeks of every changing recommendations by health professionals and Government authorities, a few decisions have already been published on this topic.
Justice Kaufman in Newmarket heard a case (Smith v Sieger (2020) O.J. No. 1220) on March 18, 2020, involving a 16-year-old Canadian child in Utah where he was attending school. The father sought an order for the return of the child to Canada before the US-Canada border was to be shut down. The father’s request was granted without much consideration of the parties’ position set out in competing affidavits. As pointed out by His Honour, “these are not normal times”.
A recurring issue amid the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently experiencing has arisen now that the government authorities have implemented strict social isolation recommendations and mandatory quarantine upon return from travel. How do these recommendations affect the parenting schedule parents have agreed to or have been ordered to follow?
A very esteemed Judge from the Hamilton Family Court, Justice Pazaratz, has released a decision as a Triage Judge setting out the parameters in answering this very important question. Ribero v Wright (2020) is a case involving a parent who is concerned about the parties’ 9-year-old son. In this matter, the mother brought a procedural motion seeking the matter to be deemed urgent in order to suspend the father’s parenting time with their child as she does not believe that the other parent will maintain social distancing protocols when the child is in his care. The mother was unsuccessful in convincing the Judge that this was an urgent matter as no evidence was provided to support her position.
In a very detailed and thoughtful decision, the Court provides a roadmap to parents struggling with this very question which includes:
- 1. All parents are to respect and comply with parenting terms (including schedule) set out in court Orders.
- Parents are to remain flexible and use common sense when having to determine parenting schedules and exchanges in order to comply with health and government recommendations (which are changing quickly).
- A child’s relationship with both parents cannot be placed “on hold” indefinitely.
- There is zero tolerance for any parent who places any child at risk of the virus.
- There are some cases that will require a temporary suspension of parenting time with a child for specific reasons such as returning from abroad travel or being infected with the virus.
- A parent who has a serious concern about the other parent’s ability to comply with health recommendations and places a child at risk can seek permission for the matter to be heard on an urgent basis.
In these challenging times, it is important to remember that it is in the child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with each parent. If a parent is under quarantine or has a health condition(s) that requires isolation, technology can allow a child to have frequent contact with the other parent, at least on a temporary basis. As stated by the Court, it is necessary to communicate well with the other parent, show mutual respect and be creative and realistic in reaching agreements during this unprecedented period.
While it is not business as usual for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Family Division included, the Court will hear matters of urgency affecting children such as abductions or a parent placing a child at risk.
If you have any questions about this or any other parenting issue arising from separation, you can contact one of the members of the LMR Family Law Group for information at www.lmrlawyers.com.[ssba]