April 4, 2020
COVID-19 FAMILY LAW – SAFETY & CIRCLES
Important: the following is general information only and the pandemic changes frequently. Get legal advice for you particular situation.
Applications to the court for orders in family law continue to come fast and furious. Most are child-related particularly focused on the health and safety of children where the parents are separated. Everyone involved, including Judges and Lawyers are having to keep up with the ongoing changes.
A few important lessons that are repeated over and over again by our courts, experts and health authorities.
A recent case Guerin v Guerin 2020 ONSC 2016 provides such examples. In Guerin, the parties are separated parents and alternated the sharing of the home with the children (a “nesting arrangement”). The mother brought an application for exclusive occupancy of the home for her and the children (that is, she gets to live in the home to the exclusion of the father) and that the father only have video / facetime with the children. The mother also had a compromised immune system due to a medical condition and argued that the father was not taking COVID-19 precautions.
The Judge ordered that the mother and children have exclusive occupancy of the home, and the father have no parenting time with the children except by video conferencing.
A few lessons from this case: first, this case demonstrates that it is possible, in urgent situations and where the children’s best interests are to be met, that an order for exclusive occupancy may be made. The second is that where an allegation is being brought against a parent claiming that they are not following the directives of health authorities, that it is incumbent on them not to just say that they are following such directives, but to provide specific evidence of how they are doing it. Furthermore, that they may also have to explain how others that they are in contact with during the COVID-19 crisis are also adhering to the directives such as other family members, blended families with other children, partners or in their workplace. I call these people’s “COVID Circles“. Providing detailed information is more so where a family member or child has a compromised immune system.
Of course each family’s circumstances vary, and ensuring that your COVID Circles are tight and transparent is important. This doesn’t mean that every separated parent starts interrogating the other parent either. Everything is about balance and reasonableness. Unfortunately for some separated parents, that is a difficult balance to find. It is even more complicated by the anxiety, fear and unknown of the pandemic. So lets not make it worse than it needs to be.