We are in unprecedented times which call for unprecedented measures; including the suspension of regular Court operations. What does this mean for separated couples and parenting arrangements?
The Courts have stated that for the sake of the child, parents must find ways to maintain important parental relationships, and to do it safely. If a parent has a valid concern that COVD-19 creates an urgent issue in relation to existing parenting arrangements, he or she may commence an emergency motion however they should not presume that this will result in an urgent hearing or a suspension of parenting time. The Courts are dealing with this issue on a case-by-case basis and what the Court will assess is whether the parent initiating a motion has specific examples of behavior or plans which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols. In most situations, there will be a presumption (or ought to be) that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to. It should only be where a parent is subject to specific personal restrictions (for example, self-isolation as a result of travel or exposure to the illness) that parenting time ought to be suspended. Parents will be expected to provide specific and realistic time-sharing proposals which address COVID-19 considerations in a child centric manner. Judges won’t need to be convinced that COVID-19 is extremely serious and Courts will presumably have zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child or members of that child’s household to any COVID-19 risk. Given limited judicial resources available during this time, a parent will need to establish a failure, inability or refusal by the other parent to adhere to appropriate COVID-19 protocols before proceeding to an urgent hearing.
Parents need to be clear about their expectations of each other. Courts will be looking to see if parents have made good faith efforts to communicating, show mutual respect and to come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness. In uncertain times such as these, children need all adults in their lives to behave in a cooperative, responsible and mature manner. Families need more cooperation and less litigation.
Sarah E. Morse
Lawyer & Accredited Family Mediator