How courts are dealing with parenting issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving as more cases are being decided. In the case of S.R. v. M.G., a decision of the Provincial Court of BC released on April 7, 2020 (2020 BCPC 57), the court elaborates on the factors that the court considers when dealing with parenting issues that are related to the pandemic.
In this case, the parties share time with an 8 year old child. The father, who owns a demolition company, continues to work outside the home Monday – Friday. The mother is a front line health care worker who continues active work as a Licensed Practical Nurse. At the end of his one week parenting time, the father refused to return the child because he was concerned that the mother had come into contact with a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore should have to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. The mother consistently sought the return of the child to her care and advised the father that she is following every precaution recommended to the nurses “and then some”. The father continued to refuse to return the child resulting in the mother applying to the Court on an urgent basis for the return of the child.
In her reasons, Judge Patricia Bond acknowledges that there is very little case law on the factors to apply in assessing whether parenting time should regime should continue for those parents who are front-line workers working with the public during the pandemic. In finding that the mother did not pose a risk to the child and should continue to have parenting time with the child, Judge Bond outlined the following considerations when assessing the what was in the child’s best interests:
- Whether the child is at an elevated risk of suffering the more severe consequences of the virus;
- Whether either party, or those in their household are at an elevated risk of suffering the more severe consequences of the virus;
- Each party’s exposure to the risk of contracting the virus;
- Steps taken by each party to mitigate the risk of exposure;
- All of the relevant factors listed under s. 37 of the Family Law Act, including:
- The child’s health and emotional well-being;
- The child’s views, where appropriate;
- The child’s relationship with each parent;
- The history of the child’s care;
- The child’s need for stability, given his age and stage of development;
- Each parent’s ability to exercise his or her parental responsibilities;
- The ability of each party to cooperate in parenting the child; and
- In the larger context, society’s need to maintain and access resources in the community, including health care and other ventures that provide services and income for families in a safe manner over an extended period of time.
In reaching her decision, Judge Bond highlights the following points:
- The parties have done their best to attempt to resolve this dispute on their own before resorting to the court;
- Although there is a risk associated with the mother’s work as a front line health care worker, the risk is known and she is taking all appropriate measures to mitigate the risk;
- There is also risk posed in the parent who is not a front line health care worker as there is general risk in the community, especially with people who are carriers without exhibiting outward symptoms. In the community, transmission can occur through touching surfaces or sneezing or coughing at the grocery store, or jogging on the street close to other pedestrians or not taking the proper precautionary measure when wearing a mask; and
- Given the disruption to the child’s schedule, it is important for the child to maintain a connection to and have the support from his primary caregiver, who in this case was the mother
This decision does not stray from the early decisions from the courts. It reinforces that this is an unprecedented time for everyone and adjustments must be made. Separated parents must be reasonable with each other with all decisions to be made in the best interests of their child(ren).
If you have questions or concerns about your parenting arrangement during this pandemic please contact us to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.