2 April 2020
COVID-19 and parenting time: Making it work
Managing parenting time schedules during a pandemic is an issue that has come to the fore, and parents are quite rightly asking what they should be doing to maximize safety while each still getting the appropriate amount of time with their children.
The BC Health Minister Bonnie Henry was recently asked how COVID 19 would affect parenting, and she acknowledged that it would be tough. While there are no easy answers, parents would do well to consider the comments of Madam Justice Fitzpatrick when she referred to the 4 c’s: communication, cooperation, compromise, and common sense. To those 4 can be added another – consultation.
This is good advice for dealing with parenting at any time but is especially apt during this crisis. COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse for one parent to unilaterally make decisions without consultation or cooperation from the other. Parenting time arrangements should proceed uninterrupted as much as possible with both parents making sure they comply with Government directives surrounding COVID-19.
Unfortunately, there are some parents who will seek to exploit this crisis by using it as an opportunity to ignore court orders or agreements, either directly or indirectly. For instance, some parents may take steps that have the same practical effect of varying an existing court order or agreement but will have done so without approval from the court.
However, if one parent withholds parenting time from the other without a valid reason, the court may determine this as urgent and could be liable to intervene. In a recent Ontario case, the court heard an application on an expedited basis from a mother whose children were being withheld by the father. The Court ordered an immediate return. Breach of court orders or court-filed agreements may constitute a contempt of court and incur consequences.
The Family Law Act allows a party to bring an application to the court within 12 months for denial of parenting time, so there will be time to pursue a court application if you feel you and your children’s rights have been breached.
There may be occasions where, despite best efforts, the parents simply cannot reach an agreement about parenting time. In cases where a parent is being denied total access to their children without valid reason, this will likely be considered urgent and court intervention is appropriate. In other circumstances, parties can explore alternative dispute resolution options, such as engaging the services of a Mediator, Parenting Coordinator or Arbitrator:
- Mediators resolve matters with the agreement of both parties.
- Parenting Coordinators and Arbitrators can make binding determinations that are enforceable, like a court order.
There is no one-size-fits-all policy during the current crisis. It is advisable to consult a legal professional who can provide guidance based on your individual circumstances. It is better to obtain professional legal advice and assistance before making a decision that may have undesirable long-term consequences.
Please note that we are currently making use of telephone and video-conferencing technology to conduct client consultations while respecting social distancing guidelines.
Learn more at our COVID-19 Resource Centre.
Laurence Klass a Partner and the Practice Group Leader for our Family Law Group.