COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters issues have been in the news and on the minds of our BC and Calgary COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters lawyers and our clients.
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It is now becoming the ‘new normal’ – many families are starting to get used to staying at home; going out only for groceries and prescriptions; washing hands more thoroughly. But unfortunately, all too often, conflict arises or continues in some families. Sometimes this conflict is relatively minor: arguments over household chores, space, personal habits, etc. But sometimes this conflict can be more serious: denial of parenting time with children; alienation of children from the other parent; family violence and lack of support payments or inability to pay support due to job loss. So what are: COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters? Peter Graburn of our Calgary office provides an update.
Increasingly, this conflict arises in separated families over COVID-19 issues, including access and health/education of children, and payment of financial (child and spousal) support during the pandemic. At the same time, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have these disputes resolved by the Courts, which are closed (“suspended”) indefinitely except for emergency and urgent matters. Naturally, in this situation, the Courts are encouraging parties (and their lawyers) to try to work out their disputes as much as possible outside the court system (ie. “kitchen–table discussions” or “4-way settlement meetings” – for a further discussion of these ADR processes, see our article: Resolving Family Law Disputes During COVID-19.
“URGENT & EMERGENCY MATTERS”
But what if you feel your matter is urgent? What if you feel it is an emergency? Fortunately, the Courts have given some early direction as to what are (and therefore are not) the COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters that will still be heard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a series of statements, Courts in both Alberta and British Columbia (and other Canadian provinces) have confirmed that most court hearings in those provinces are currently suspended except for “emergency/essential and urgent matters”, which include (for family law matters) applications regarding:
● a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or a child (ie. protection orders, conduct orders, or orders for the exclusive possession of the home, etc.;
● a risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction (ie. relocation, non-removal, or retention of a child);
● the well-being of a child (ie. essential medical decisions, urgent issues relating to parenting time, contact, or communication with a child that cannot be reasonably delayed) (British Columbia), or;
● review of an Emergency Protection Order (Alberta).
SHARED PARENTING GUIDELINES DURING COVID-19
Clearly, not all COVID-19 related family law disputes are being heard by the Courts at this time. So how do separated parents deal with COVID-19 disputes (particularly immediate custody and access matters) while regular Court hearings are suspended? In the leading COVID-19 family law case (Ribeiro v. Wright 2020 ONSC 1829), the Ontario Superior Court set out the following guidelines on how separated parents should deal with shared parenting arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic (while the Courts are unable to hear all these matters), including:
● in most situations, existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to any modifications necessary to ensure all COVID-19 precautions are met, including social distancing;
● in some cases, parents may have to give up time with their children if the parent is subject to some specific personal restriction (ie. self-isolation due to travel, exposure or illness due to COVID-19);
● there will be no tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk;
● there may need to be temporary changes in exchanges of the children, including changes in transportation, exchange locations, or any terms of supervision to ensure social-distancing requirements;
● in blended families, 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 or new relationships, and;
● no matter how difficult the challenge, for the sake of the child(ren), parents must find ways to maintain the important parental relationship.
For a further discussion on the procedural steps and specific evidence necessary to bring a COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters custody and parenting application during COVID-19 set out in Ribeiro and other cases, see MacLean Law founder Lorne MacLean’s article: “Urgent COVID-19 Child Custody Parenting Applications Lawyers”:
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Everyone involved in family law disputes (parents, lawyers, judges, arbitrators, etc.) is grappling with the current COVID-19 situation: what to do in this “new normal” is often unclear. What is clear is that the current situation is serious and will likely remain serious (at least unsettled) for some time. It is also clear that not all COVID-19 family law disputes (except for the most serious “emergency” COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters) can be dealt with by the Courts at this time.
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So what can we all do? Perhaps as the Courts have suggested: take social/physical distancing seriously; be practical, reasonable and generous in co-parenting decisions (at least in the short-term); do what is truly “in the best interests of the child”- your child’s health and long-term relationship with both parents is at stake. Ribeiro v. Wright is full of helpful and heart-felt statements on how co-parents should act during this COVID-19 pandemic, none so true as (at para. 30):
“None of us have ever experienced anything like this. We are all going to have to try a bit harder – for the sake of our children.”
If you have questions concerning COVID-19 Coronavirus Urgent Family Law Matters contact us immediately at any of our 6 offices across BC and in downtown Calgary Alberta.