Our law firm staff have decided to put together a COVID-19 Family Law Blog Series together and to provide you with updates on what changes the Toronto Family Law courts are  implementing during COVID-19. This post is useful to parents who are considering varying a Court Order that sets out a parenting plan for the amount of time each parent gets to spend with a child of a relationship or a child of a marriage.

At the present time the effects of COVID-19 directly impact the social and economic lives of nearly all Canadians in some way. The Ontario government, in accordance with international health standards has initiated a policy of social distancing to limit and reduce the spread of COVID-19.  The major question related to issues that affect Toronto family law and Toronto Family Lawyers are how do these new policies affect parental relationships and access to children between parties?

In the recent case of Ribeiro v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 (CanLII), Justice Pazaratz of the Hamilton Superior Court of Justice, outlined a framework for navigating parenting arrangements during COVID-19 and commented on a primary caregiver parent’s decision to suspend access to a parent with access / visitation rights. First, the court noted that this type of proceeding was not deemed to be urgent by the  Courts in their mandate to deal with only urgent matters before the Courts at this time. To be clear where a parent with a primary residence Order has denied or is denying face to face access to the access parent, or is seeking to vary the access schedule or regime due to COVID-19 or any other concerns related to same, this will not be considered an urgent matter by the Courts to deal with immediately through procedures ordinarily in use for urgent matters.

The Court further noted that in most COVID-19 related situations, where change in access is being contemplated, there should be a presumption that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications maybe necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are  adhered to – including strict social distancing. The Court did indicate clearly that each case is unique and the concerns presented by each parent are unique such that in certain cases face to face access may be temporarily suspended replaced by alternative methods of contact. The Courts noted that “each family will have its own unique issues and complications. There will be no easy answers. But no matter how difficult the challenge, for the sake of the child we have to find ways to maintain important parental relationships – and above all, we have to find ways to do it safely.” The court was clear that while parents are understandably confused and worried about what to do, similarly, this is uncharted territory for our court system.

The Court clearly indicated as well, however that, in most situations there should be a presumption 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. In some cases, custodial or access parents may have to forego their times with a child if an isolation period is required or otherwise.

We are currently working with our existing client and potential new clients to arrange adequate parenting arrangements outside the scope of existing Court orders, where a parent seeks to suspend access, or vary it, or whether we represent a parent that is subject to an access order. Our work has allowed parents to employ further safeguards  to ensure a child is either safe during his or her parenting time with the access parent and the primary caregiver parent, or to suspend access temporarily allowing access to continue by alternative means so that a children continue to have meaningful time with both parents during such a difficult time. We urge both primary caregiver parent and access parents to understand that this is all temporary and if you know your rights and obligations in making changes to parenting regimes, then once the COVID-19 restrictions have resolved themselves, the parenting schedule will go back to what was court ordered.

We are here to assist you with all of these needs, and to assist you in any negations you may need to resolve the child custody and access disputes. Please call one of our Toronto Family Lawyers and Toronto Child Custody Lawyers today for a telephone consultation related to your matter. We are here to help you navigate these uncharted waters.

Written By:

Ms. Solmaz Separy, Managing Lawyer

Ms. Katie Gaboury, Associate Lawyer

Mr. Adam Jaffer, Articling Student