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How Covid-19 Affects Co-parenting.

By Emma Katz

We are currently living in the midst of a global pandemic that hit our doorsteps with very little notice. We have been strongly advised by all levels of government to practice safe social distancing. Schools are closed and many parents are working from home. What does this mean for co-parenting, and particularly in the face of court closures?

This unprecedented situation has unfolded rapidly but we have been provided with some guidance.

Community Legal Education Ontario has posted an advisory stating that court orders and agreements must be followed unless a parent or child has been directed to quarantine or self-isolate. The full posting from CLEO can be found here: https://stepstojustice.ca/covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3W5bzG-Mox5bH79MgLoBcYb5pedk4CJ6dBCJn5PueTAhpk8w41s3d5l6A

If a parent has been directed to quarantine or self-isolate because they have travelled, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been in direct contact with someone who has tested positive, it will not be possible for orders or agreements to be followed. In those cases, the non-quarantined parent should facilitate alternate means of access such as Facetime, telephone, or skype calls with the quarantined parent. If the quarantined parent does not consent to this change during the period of mandatory quarantine, it is likely a court would determine the order/agreement can be breached in the circumstances, with alternate virtual access proceeding. Parents could also consider make-up visits.

The Association for Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) has published guidelines for parents who are divorced/separated and sharing custody of children during this pandemic. The guidelines also note that orders and agreements should be complied with and that parents should be creative about access when it has to be interfered with and transparent about potential exposure to the virus. The seven guidelines can be found here: https://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/COVID19Guidelinesfordivorcedparents.FINAL.pdf?ver=2020-03-17-202849-133

We are encouraging clients to work together to ensure social distancing is being followed as much as possible. This might mean agreeing to limits on who parents see when the children are not in their care and what rules will be in place for their children in terms of seeing other people, if at all.

Parents can agree on consent to modify their parenting agreement or order on a temporary basis in the circumstances. For example, parents could agree to limiting exchanges and extending periods of time with each parent, particularly for older children and while schools remain closed if parents generally share holidays.

When social distancing cannot be maintained or is not feasible because one parent is working, parents should be open to Facetime/skype access. Again, this can only be done if both parents agree that maintaining social distancing is in everyone’s best interest. Currently, there is no direction that every person stays home but the situation is unfolding rapidly and that could become a reality. If that occurs we recommend checking updates from the courts and the resources noted above and seeking guidance of family counsel.