When it comes to helping ‘flatten the curve’ not all expectations or rules are clear and simple. The Government has elected to close all non-essential businesses in order to reduce person-to-person contact and limit exposure and the spread of COVID-19. They have asked us to stay home and not go out unless we absolutely have to. Gatherings in groups of 5 or more people that do not live in the same household have been banned, public areas such as parks and conservation areas have been closed. If you have just returned from outside the country, if you have had contact with someone that has just returned from out of the country or if you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 you are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days. These are some of the most spoken about and clear-cut expectations, and even though most people are trying to do their part and stay home, many people still choose to ignore these directives and carry on as normal.
Social and physical distancing has become an everyday reality for almost everyone during the pandemic, so when it comes to shared custody or parental access of children, is it okay to not allow your children to see your former spouse? Even if this would reduce contact and potential spread of COVID-19? The short answer to this popular question is no, parenting duties should continue to be shared during this time. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has already issued several rulings setting expectations for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The message has been clear, that even though the government is trying to contain the spread of the virus by asking everyone to stay home, children have the right to have access both parents and it is in their best interest to allow them to continue to spend time with both parents, as long as they can safely do so.
If there was ever a time to be mindful of your ex-spouse’s current situation, this would be it. COVID-19 has forced everyone into a new daily routine as circumstances continue to change for everyone. In some cases, there may be distrust or even resentment between the parents, keeping your attention on what is best for your children, and acting in good faith is still the overarching expectation for both parties. You can attempt to set out new temporary terms with the other parent to limit travel and exposure for your children. Family law courts anticipate parents make reasonable changes to their parenting schedules where they can, and can expect breaches of custody agreements to be brought up once courts resume standard operations.
Parents that are in self-isolation due to recently being out of the country or who may have been exposed to COVID-19 will most-likely need to forgo spending physical time with their children to ensure they do not spread the virus. The courts have made it clear that the children’s safety and health are of the utmost importance, there will be zero-tolerance for any parent that knowingly exposes their children or the other parent to COVID-19. If the scenario arises where the children are unable to physically be with one of their parents due to the pandemic, this shouldn’t mean that all contact ceases. There are ways to keep the relationship healthy through phone calls and video chats. Taking the time to connect with both parents limits the risk of emotional harm caused by the physical distancing orders.
Even though the COVID-19 Pandemic has had us all adjust to a new norm, it is clear that in Ontario parental agreements and schedules are expected to be complied with. You are able to work with the other parent and agree to schedule adjustments, however, if no agreement is made you cannot limit access to your children. Even if you suspect that their other parent is not taking necessary precautions during this time to keep themselves and your children safe, you will need to provide evidence to the courts and allow them to make that decision. If your conversations with the other parent are not constructive or if you are uncertain about your children’s safety we suggest consulting with a family law attorney to discuss your best approach during this time.
Our law firm in Barrie remains open to provide you with legal advice for various family law issues, divorce, real estate and more. Call us today 705-735-0003 or request a free consultation.
The material provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice.