Parenting Disputes in the COVID-19 Era

It may not be ‘business as usual’ with the courts during these trying times, but judges are still hearing urgent matters.[1]  Although the urgency threshold is high, one issue being dealt with by the courts is the restriction on contact between a parent and a child.  
 
[1] Please see my blog entitled “The Court System During the COVID-19 Pandemic”. 
 

During these troubled pandemic times, some parents have come to court attempting to limit or entirely stop access to the other parent.  You would be mistaken presuming that the existence of the COVID-19 crisis will automatically result in a suspension of in-person parenting time.  The courts begin with certain presuppositions: 

  • Children thrive best when they have as much contact as possible with both parents; 
  • Particularly in these uncertain and harrowing times, children need stability, comfort and predictability in their routine.  Despite current world events, this can be accomplished. 
  • Stability, comfort and predictability entails maintaining the parenting arrangements that were in place prior to the COVID pandemic—as long as the safety of the children is not compromised in any way; 
  • Prior court orders or agreements that set out the parenting arrangements for children should be adhered to even in these uncertain times, unless there are compelling reasons to change the previous arrangements.   

If a parent brings an urgent matter to the court wishing to limit a child’s contact with the other parent during this pandemic, the parent must provide the court with specific evidence or examples of behaviour or plans by the other parent which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols.    The parent responding to such a motion must provide the court with specific and absolute reassurance that COVID-19 safety measures will be meticulously adhered to—e.g. social distancing, use of disinfectants, compliance with public safety directives, etc..  
In short, the courts do not condone changes to established parenting arrangements solely because of the COVID-19 crisis, as long as the current parenting regime does not compromise the safety and wellbeing of the children.  The removal of one parent from a child’s life must be exercised extremely cautiously.  This being said, however,  there is ‘zero tolerance’   for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk.   

If two parents are having a parenting dispute during these disorienting and troubling times, they should not go to court lightly without strong reasons.  More than ever, judges look to parents to find their own realistic solutions.  Judges want to see if parents have made good faith efforts to communicate, to show mutual respect, and to come up with creative and realistic proposals, demonstrating both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness.  Parents coming to court without first having genuinely attempting to work out solutions will be admonished. 

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