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COVID-19 and Divorce in Ontario: What if the other parent works in healthcare and has an increased risk of contracting COVID?

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Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

COVID-19 and Divorce in Ontario: What if the other parent works in healthcare and has an increased risk of contracting COVID?

Recent news articles are reporting that a U.S. doctor who treats COVID-19 patients has lost custody of her four year old daughter.  Dr. Theresa Greene was quoted “I think it’s not fair, it’s cruel to ask me to choose between my child and the oath I took as a physician”. It is also being reported that Dr. Greene intends to appeal the court decision.

So would this happen in Ontario, Canada?  How would Ontario’s family courts approach this issue?

In some cases in Ontario a parent’s personal risk factors albeit through employment or associations may require controls with respect to their direct contact with the child.

However, if the parent is a healthcare professional, they and their employer should be well aware of the protocols to prevent transmission of infection. It would be safe to assume that the parent would take all necessary precautions to keep their child safe while in their care.

Any attempt to keep a child from their parent without a specific personal restriction signals to the child that the parent may not be capable of caring for the child and keeping them safe. This would not likely be considered to be in the best interest of the child.

Justice Pazartz noted in Ribeiro v Wright that in some circumstances:

In some cases, a parent’s personal risk factors (through employment or associations, for example) may require controls with respect to their direct contact with a child.

This issue was also considered by the court in Zee v. Quon, where a parent was a physiotherapist Health Sciences Centre:

[33] It is in the child’s best interests to return to the equal time sharing schedule that has been in place for some time. The Respondent’s proposal that the child remain with him for an indefinite period with only Facetime access to the mother is not in the child’s best interest. It disrupts the status quo and it signals to the child that the mother may not be capable of caring for her and keeping her safe. Based on Gregory’s letter, I am not convinced that this message would not be sent to Olivia, overtly or covertly, in the Respondent’s home.

[34] The Applicant is a health care professional. She and her employer are well aware of the protocols to prevent transmission of infection. If the Applicant is required to return to work, I am satisfied that she will take all necessary precautions to keep her child safe while in her care.

A similar outcome occurred in Elsaesser v. Rammeloo, a case that involved a nurse working in a hospital.

Would Dr. Greene lose custody of her four year old daughter if she lived in Ontario, Canada?  The short answer, no not likely.

UPDATE: Florida Appeal Court recently reversed the decision and gave Dr. Greene custody. 

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues, including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.