Can I deny parenting to my ex due to Covid-19?
The decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ribeiro v. Wright 2020 ONSC 1829, provides some helpful guidance on how courts are likely to view applications to vary parenting time due to Covid-19 concerns.
In this case, the parties 9-year old son lived primarily with the mother and the father had parenting time on alternating weekends. The mother applied to court to suspend the father’s parenting time due to her Covid-19 fears. In particular, the mother had a concern that the father would not maintain social distancing during the father’s parenting access. The mother was self-isolating and did not want the child to leave her home for any reason, including the father’s parenting time.
The court did not allow the application to proceed to hearing, noting:
- The health, safety and well-being of children and families remains the court’s foremost consideration during COVID-19. This is an extremely difficult and stressful period for everyone.
- There is a presumption that all orders should be respected and complied with, including those dealing with parenting time.
- This is uncharted territory for our court system. We are in extraordinary times; and that our daily routines and activities will for the most part have to be suspended, in favor of a strict policy of social distancing and limiting community interactions as much as possible
- We all have to work together to show flexibility, creativity and common sense – to promote both the physical and emotional well-being of children.
- In many respects we are going to have to put our lives “on hold” until COVID-19 is resolved. But children’s lives – and vitally important family relationships – cannot be placed “on hold” indefinitely without risking serious emotional harm and upset. A blanket policy that children should never leave their primary residence – even to visit their other parent – is inconsistent with a comprehensive analysis of the best interests of the child. In troubling and disorienting times, children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents, now more than ever.
- In most situations there should be a presumption 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 – including strict social distancing.
- In some cases, custodial or access parents may have to forego their times with a child, if the parent is subject to some specific personal restriction (for example, under self-isolation for a 14 day period as a result of recent travel; personal illness; or exposure to illness).
- In some cases a parent’s lifestyle or behaviour in the face of COVID-19 (for example, failing to comply with social distancing; or failing to take reasonable health-precautions) may raise sufficient concerns about parental judgment that direct parent-child contact will have to be reconsidered. There will be zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk.
- In blended family situations, parents will need assurance that COVID-19 precautions are being maintained in relation to each person who spends any amount of time in a household – including children of former relationships.
When will Court’s consider an Application to Vary Parenting Time Due to Covid -19?
Applications to vary or suspend parenting time due to Covid-19 concerns will be considered by the courts on a case-by-case basis. The applicant will need to show:
- The parent initiating an urgent motion on this topic will be required to provide specific evidence or examples of behavior or plans by the other parent which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols.
- Both parents will be required to provide very specific and realistic time-sharing proposals which 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 which have now been closed. This is a very good time for both custodial and access parents to spend time with their child at home.
Our team at Nasser Allan is available to make any urgent court application necessary for the safety of your children and family. There have been no disruption to our services, we are a forward-thinking law firm and have the systems in place work remote whenever needed. We care about our clients in these financially challenging times. Contact us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.