How to Navigate Co-Parenting during COVID-19
It seems as if everyday governments are enacting tighter restrictions on quarantines. Today the Ontario government issued an emergency alert for residents returning from abroad advising them to go directly home and to avoid all interaction. Despite all of the noise occurring in the media, some families may be left with uncertainty as to how to share custody with their children. We have reported on a few recent decisions from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on such issues and the overarching theme the courts have shown to grant priority to is: the best interests of the child.
But what if parents disagree as to what these best interests are? In many cases one parent may feel the other is acting recklessly and may risk exposing the child to COVID-19, while in others the child may be absent from both parents and may be going through emotional difficulty. Regardless of the reasoning, these are unprecedented times and it is normal for parents to have feelings of uncertainty.
Here is what we know based on recent decisions from the court that may help serve as a guideline for concerned parents or unsure counsel:
- A presumption should be made that existing arrangements will continue. This should serve as the focal point of the decision making. Whatever the existing parenting arrangement is between the parties, it should be followed as best as possible subject to the health precautions and guidelines issued by public health authorities.
- An isolated parent may have to temporarily forgo scheduled time. If one of the parents has recently returned from travel or has been experiencing symptoms and has to self-isolate for the 14 day period it is logical for the child to stay with the other parent for that period of time. The courts have expressed that it holds zero tolerance for parents who recklessly expose the child to a risk of COVID-19.
- Parties acting in bad faith and attempting to use COVID-19 as a means to alter access will not be tolerated. The court has also expressed that if a motion is brought to change the parenting arrangement without sufficient evidence that the other parent is behaving recklessly then the court will not deem the motion urgent.
- The child deserves the right to spend time with both parents. The courts have highlighted that it is typically in the best interests of the child to spend time with both parents, especially during a difficult situation like COVID-19. The courts have had to take drastic steps to ensure justice remains open to the public and as a result must be selective with what it deems urgent at this time.
Despite the complexity of the COVID-19 situation and the impact it has had on nearly all areas of life, it is important to remember that as parents and lawyers we serve as guardians. In difficult times such as this we can remain solution-oriented and seek to uphold inter-personal relationships with our clients, our ex-spouses, and children.