Many separated parents sharing parenting time with their children have been asking the same question: how does shared parenting work in light of the restrictions and recommendations for self-isolation and social distancing?
The Superior Court of Justice, Family Court released a decision on March 24, 2020 dealing with that exact question. In Ribeiro v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 [Ribeiro], although Justice Pazaratz did not ultimately hear the matter, he did set out guidelines for parents to consider before making an application to the court to address COVID-19 concerns impacting a parenting arrangement, which can be summarized as follows:
- The health, safety, and well-being of children and families is of paramount concern during COVID-19;
- If there is an existing parenting order, there is a presumption that the order should be respected and followed and in most situations, the existing parenting schedule should continue subject to necessary modifications to ensure all COVID-19 precautions are being followed, including strict social distancing;
- Given the directives from the government and health authorities, daily routines and activities will have to be suspended;
- Parents must be flexible, creative and have common sense to provide the physical and emotional well-being of children during this extraordinary time;
- Children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents;
- 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 or do not take COVID-19 seriously;
- 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; and,
- If a hearing does proceed, the court will be looking to see if parents made good faith efforts to communicate; to show mutual respect; and to come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness
An important note highlighted by Justice Pazaratz is that although parents are able to bring an urgent motion in relation to COVID-19 concerns impacting a parenting arrangement, those concerns do not automatically result in an urgent hearing or a suspension of in-person parenting time – it will be determined on a case-by-case basis. He concludes his reasons by urging parents to keep in mind that everyone is struggling with the impact of COVID-19 and that now is the time for parents to work together more than ever for the safety and security of their children.
Although this is a case from Ontario, we expect judgements from the BC Supreme Court to align with Ribeiro. If you have COVID-19 concerns that impact a parenting arrangement, please contact Henderson Heinrichs LLP to set up your free 30 minute consultation via phone or video conference.