Mom Worries About COVID-19: Court Blocks Dad’s Cottage Week with Kid
In a recent urgent ruling via Zoom call, the Ontario court prohibited a well-meaning father from imminently taking his son on a cottage week with his extended family, because of the mother’s concerns over the risks due to COVID-19.
The parents were separated and shared joint custody of their 9-year old child, who lived with each of them on a weekly-alternating basis. The parents were also subject to a court-ordered schedule around how and with whom the boy’s summer vacations were to be spent.
For his scheduled summer vacation time with the boy this year, the father’s plan was to enjoy a week-long cottage rental in the Kawartha Lakes area, with members of his extended family joining them. His own parents were coming from Leamington, and his sister and her child were coming from Toronto. The plan was that the three households would merge into one social “bubble” for the week, and thus avoid having to concern themselves over pandemic-related protocols such as wearing masks and physical distancing.
The mother objected on the basis that this was “selfish” of the father and “unnecessarily risky”, since she was concerned that the child would be exposed to a risk of contracting COVID-19. With seven family members travelling from three different parts of the province, she pointed out that by definition this could not be a social circle or “bubble” in accord with provincial health guidelines. As such, she did not want the child to go. As the court explained:
Put another way, she did not want the child exposed to any non-compliant situation, even if that meant he was prohibited from taking summer vacation with his father.
She brought an urgent motion – incidentally without giving the father the required notice – and asked the court to block the child from going.
The father countered by insisting that the child’s best interests were uppermost in his mind, that he was well-versed in the recommended COVID-19 hygiene practices, and that the risk was minimal. He accused the mother of making yet another attempt to interfere with his summer vacation plans for the third year in a row.
After reviewing the evidence available on short notice, the court ruled in the mother’s favour. It concluded that the fathers’ arrangements around the proposed cottage rental were insufficient to address the risks.
The court focused solely on whether it was in the child’s best interests to participate in light of current provincial health and safety guidelines. It agreed with the mother’s stance that the father’s current plan to add his extended family did not strictly conform to provincial social circle directives around “bubbles”. Those directives also stipulated that separated spouses should include each other in their respective social circles before taking steps to expand the circle to others. But in this case, the mother – who had asthma – objected to being part of the larger social circle the father wanted – which the court found was reasonable.
Plus, there was no evidence from the father about whether the child’s aunt and cousin were adhering to social distancing protocols, nor anything about their own social circles. As the court noted, “According to the provincial guidelines, each person can only belong to one social circle. So, if a person is invited to join a social circle, their social contacts must also be considered.”
The court hastened to add that it was convinced both parents had taken appropriate steps on a daily basis to keep themselves and the child safe from COVID-19 while at home. This included social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene, and being careful about grocery shopping and other outings. However, the court still drew a line at the father’s family cottage plan, stating:
I am satisfied that [the father] did not believe he was exposing [the child] to any risk by pursuing the cottage vacation with his family. It has been said on many occasions that these are unprecedented and confusing times. What is allowed or not allowed is rapidly evolving. In pre-COVID times, the proposed family vacation would have been a fun, happy week for [the child]. However, considering the current health threat and the evidence before me, I find the potential risk to [the child] … outweighs the benefits of one week at the cottage. …
Not without some apparent trepidation, the court accordingly ruled that the child was prohibited from join the father on the cottage trip with extended family.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Moncur v. Plante, 2020 ONSC 4391