Altering Access During COVID-19

Ontario courts have been clear: parent-child access (or visitation) arrangements are to be changed as little as possible due to COVID-19. In the now-frequently referenced case of Riberio v Wright, Justice Pazaratz outlines that parents need to work together to be co-operative and to come up with solutions pertaining to access while social distancing protocols are in place.

Some parents have raised concerns that transporting children for access between parent households may increase the child’s or families’ exposure to the virus which causes COVID-19. They have proposed suspending access to reduce travel and potential exposure.

However, the expectation of a parent’s behaviour during COVID-19 is clear. Parents must ensure that their child’s safety is protected but in a way that would not result in a widespread suspension of parenting time. Parents are encouraged to continue to maintain parental relationships in a safe way.

In addition, existing court orders should be followed as much as possible unless there are compelling reasons or evidence there should be a change. The parent seeking to restrict access due to COVID-19-related concerns has the onus to prove the need to deviate from the order.

One reason to vary access is if a parent’s behaviour is inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols which would expose a child to increased health risks. An example of this is a parent refusing to respect social distancing. It must be noted that safety recommendations are changing frequently during the pandemic. Some parenting behaviours that may have been appropriate in the beginning of March were starting to be viewed differently towards the end of March, for example.

It is important to create stability for children. Cancellation of school, play dates and extracurricular activities have changed many children’s lives. The court has been clear that in order to maintain a sense of stability, children should receive the support of both parents whenever possible.

The court has also said that parties in litigation cannot take the current, restricted access to courts as an opportunity to act unreasonably. The best interests of the children should always be considered.

If you or someone you know needs family law help during this time, SullivanLaw is offering free 15-minute legal advice over the phone. To book a consultation, contact our office at (613) 730-8865.

SullivanLaw offers Collaborative Family Law Solutions, a manner of negotiating family law issues privately, without the threat of litigation.

More information about contacting SullivanLaw here.

For more information about managing with children during the COVID-19 social distancing, look here.