Parenting Time During the Pandemic
During these extremely difficult times, perhaps one of the most difficult issues to address and comfortably resolve in family law matters is how Covid-19 and the parent’s behaviours and choices impact upon their parenting time.
To begin with, existing court orders are expected to be complied with and honoured. Since the middle of March, normal court operations have been suspended until further notice such that in person court appearances are no longer occurring and, other than select types of cases, only urgent matters are being heard by tele- or video-conference.
There have been a number of cases dealing with parenting time since this Covid-19 pandemic began. The general principles coming from those cases include, but are not limited to, the following:
i) Covid-19 will not automatically result in the suspension of in person access;
ii) if a parent wants to bring an urgent motion to restrict the other parent’s access based on Covid-19 concerns, he or she will first have to convince the court that the motion is urgent;
iii) the parent bringing the motion to restrict the other parent’s access will have to provide specific details and examples of behaviour of the other parent that demonstrate non-compliance with Covid-19 protocols and that support concerns that the children could be in harm’s way in the other parent’s care. It’s not enough for a parent to just say that the other parent is reckless, cavalier or non-compliant with respect to Covid-19 protocols and there is concern for the safety of the children;
iv) the parent responding to allegations of non-compliance with Covid-19 protocols will have to provide specific reassurances of compliance with the protocols with details associated with the parent’s practices in relation to, for instance, hand hygiene, physical distancing practices, obtaining groceries, the behaviour and practices of other individuals in the parent’s household, protocols at work if applicable, interactions with others and things of that nature.
Judges have routinely expressed the position that, in these trying times, parents are expected to be more cooperative with one another, share details of their practices with respect to compliance with Covid-19 protocols, avoid self-help measures such as denying access to the other parent and to try to work out access arrangements.
If you have concerns about what to do with access issues during this pandemic, I encourage you to seek legal advice rather than to simply withhold the children from the other parent. Such withholding may not be in the best interests of the children and could hurt you in the future. Please feel free to contact Sunny Chhabra at (289) 240-6198 should you have any questions.