CO-PARENTING DURING A PANDEMIC
Issues around parenting amongst separated partners can be contentious at the best of times. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has not made co-parenting issues any easier to resolve. While parents need to protect their children from the pandemic with the practice of social distancing, it is not a means to suspend the parenting time of the other parent. Where the other parent endeavours to adhere to COVID-19 protocols and takes necessary steps to keep the children safe and healthy during their parenting time, COVID-19 should not be used to bring it to an immediate and unilateral stop. Moreover, where the parenting regime is defined in a court order, there is a presumption that the parents will comply with it. However, what can you do when a parent acts contrary to the COVID-19 protocols, compromising the health and safety of the children?
A recent Ontario case, Ribeiro v Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829, offers some preliminary guidance to the issue of co-parenting during a pandemic. The case involved a mother making an emergency application to suspend the father’s parenting time with the children, over her belief that he will not obey the social distancing policies. While the court deemed the matter as “not urgent,” it acknowledged there is zero tolerance towards parents who recklessly expose a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk. Furthermore, the court stated that a parent could initiate an emergency application to address COVID-19 concerns relating to parenting, though proceeding in such a fashion may not result in an urgent hearing. The following is a non-exhaustive list of considerations that a parent should be mindful of when advancing such applications:
- The parent initiating an urgent motion on this issue will be required to provide specific evidence or examples of behaviour or plans by the other parent, which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols.
- The parent responding to such an urgent motion will be required to provide specific and absolute reassurance that COVID-19 safety measures will be meticulously adhered to – including social distancing, use of disinfectants, and compliance with public safety directives; etc.
- Both parents will be required to provide very specific and realistic time-sharing proposals that fully address all COVID-19 considerations in a child-focused manner.
- Judges will likely take judicial notice of the fact that social distancing is now becoming both commonplace and accepted, given the number of public facilities that have currently closed. The pandemic is a very good time for both custodial and access parents to spend time with their child at home.
In denying the mother’s emergency application, Justice Paparatz stated that families need to focus more on cooperating than litigating. This application was heard in Ontario, and there is no assurance that matters of such nature will be heard regularly in Alberta Courts, or be decided using similar reasoning.
If you, as a parent, feel there are no means to find solutions with the other parent creatively and on your own, there are other means of solving parenting disputes outside of court applications. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closure of the courts to all but the most urgent cases, family mediations and family arbitrations have started to emerge as useful tools, employed to bring about a resolution for parenting disputes. Furthermore, decisions and agreements facilitated through these alternative dispute resolution methods may now be entered into court as Consent Orders for enforcement.
If you have any questions or concerns about your parenting arrangement or how you may be able to alter it, our legal team at Gurevitch Burnham Law Office is ready to help. We are available for consultations by telephone, video conference or email. Contact us at (780) 539-3710 or www.grandeprairielaw.ca.