31 Mar Parenting During COVID-19
In Ribeiro v. Wright, the Superior Court of Justice provided direction on what parenting issues would be considered urgent during the COVID-19 court closures.
In that case, the mother had primary residency of the child while the father had access pursuant to a temporary consent order. The mother brought a motion for an urgent hearing to suspend all in-person access due to concerns that the father would not maintain social distancing.
Justice Pazaratz determined that the matter was not urgent based on the following principles:
- The health, safety and well-being of children and families remains the court’s foremost consideration during COVID-19;
- There is a presumption that all orders should be respected and complied with and a presumption that an existing order reflects a determination that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child;
- A blanket policy that children should never leave their primary residence – even to visit their other parent – is inconsistent with a comprehensive analysis of the best interests of the child. In troubling and disorienting times, children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents;
- There is a presumption in most situations that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to – including strict social distancing;
- Custodial or access parents may have to forego their time with a child if the parent is subject to some specific personal restriction (for example, under self-isolation for a 14 day period as a result of recent travel; personal illness; or exposure to illness);
- A parent’s personal risk factors (for example, through employment or associations) may require controls with respect to their direct contact with a child;
- A parent’s lifestyle or behaviour in the face of COVID-19 (for example, failing to comply with social distancing; or failing to take reasonable health precautions) may raise sufficient concerns about parental judgment that direct parent-child contact will have to be reconsidered;
- There will be zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of a child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk;
- At every stage of parenting, including exchanges, the social distancing imperative will have to be safeguarded, which may result in changes to transportation, exchange locations or any terms of supervision;
- In blended family situations, 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 relationships; and
- For the sake of the child, parents and the courts have to find ways to maintain important parental relationships and above all, find ways to do it safely.
If there is a concern that there is an urgent issue due to COVID-19:
- The parent initiating an urgent motion must provide specific evidence or examples of behaviour or plans by the other parent which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols;
- The parent responding to such an urgent motion will be required to provide specific and absolute reassurance that COVID-19 safety measures will be meticulously adhered to – including social distancing, use of disinfectants, compliance with public safety directives, etc.;
- Both parents will be required to provide very specific and realistic time-sharing proposals which fully address all COVID-19 considerations, in a child-focused manner; and
- Judges will likely take judicial notice of the fact that social distancing is now becoming both commonplace and accepted, given the number of public facilities which have now been closed. This is a very good time for both custodial and access parents to spend time with their child at home.
Judges will be considering if parents have made good faith efforts to communicate; show mutual respect; and have come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness.
Justice Pazaratz concluded that in dealing with COVID-19 issues, families need more cooperation and less litigation.