Co-Parenting During COVID-19

 In Blog, Family Law, Nesbitt, Allison

I am sure that we can all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned everybody’s world upside down. It has been, and continues to be, a stressful time for all, but even more so for those who are co-parenting their child(ren) with their ex-partner.

Co-Parenting During COVID-19

Over the past few months, I have received many inquiries regarding issues concerning parents’ access/parenting time during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether there is justification for changing the existing schedule. Here are a few key points that the Courts have provided guidance on:

  1. The basic presumption is that parents are to continue following their current parenting arrangement that is outlined in their separation agreement or in their existing court order (whether that is a final order or the most recent temporary court order).
  2. Generally speaking, if both parents are following health and safety protocols while at home and at work then neither parent should be allowed to unilaterally deny the other parent access/parenting time with their child(ren). For example, if the existing parenting arrangement provides for biweekly weekend access, it is the presumption that this should remain and that telephone or FaceTime access alone cannot supplement a parent’s regular in-person access with their child(ren).
  3. In exceptional circumstances, parents may have to forego their scheduled access time with their child(ren) on a temporary basis. For example, if a parent has been exposed to COVID-19 and is in self-isolation.

As always, the best interest of the child is the number one concern. At this point it is a reasonable request for the other parent to inquire about some of the following items from the other co-parent during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Their routine of whether the parent and those currently living with them are continuing to attend work or whether they are working from home;
  2. What health protocols are being followed at work and home (e.g. handwashing and disinfectants, social distancing, travelling while outside the home, precautions taken while with the children, compliance with public safety directives);
  3. Whether they have been in contact with any person who may have COVID-19 or who has been in contact with another person who has COVID-19.

Common sense prevails for protecting the safety of the children when travelling between parents’ households. It is important that parents cooperate and provide the other parent with information concerning what measures they have put in place to protect their own health, that of their children, and that of any other persons within their household to minimize their risk of COVID-19.

Family Court and COVID-19

Family law courts are currently allowing parties to bring urgent motions in emergency situations where the moving party can establish that one parent is showing blatant disregard for protecting their child’s safety while the child is in their care.

For the Court to deem your case as urgent, the moving party must be able to provide the Court with sufficient justification and specific examples which:

  1. Demonstrate that a parent is not protecting their child from the risk of COVID-19.
    Some possible examples of unsafe behaviour may include bringing a child to a social gathering with many other children who are not in their immediate household and not maintaining social distancing, or allowing a child to play close contact sports like soccer or street hockey with the other children on the street.

Nonetheless, even in such circumstances, there is likely a very high threshold for a judge to order that one parent’s access should be temporarily suspended, as it is usually in the child’s best interest to maintain in-person contact with both parents where the situation deems it appropriate. A judge may be more likely to provide the parent with a warning and order them to educate themselves on social distancing and other health and safety protocols recommended by the World Health Organization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now more than ever, parents should strive to work together and develop a parenting plan that is child-focused and works for their individual situation.

We would be happy to assist you with any questions you may have during these uncertain times. If you have any questions about custody or access during these unusual and stressful times, please feel free to contact Brown Beattie O’Donovan’s family law team to set up an appointment.

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