By: Victoria Hanton
Associate, HGR Graham Partners LLP
On March 24, 2020, one of the first endorsements from the Superior Court of Justice discussing urgent family law motions and the COVID-19 pandemic was released. The full endorsement for the matter of Ribeiro v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 can be viewed here:
The endorsement comes from Justice Pazaratz , and it provides helpful guidance to Ontario family lawyers and clients during these uncertain times.
In Ribeiro v. Wright, the parents had joint custody of their nine-year-old son. The child primarily resided with his mother and his father had parenting time every other weekend. The mother brought an urgent motion to suspend all in-person access with the father due to COVID-19. The mother expressed concerns that the father would not adhere to social distancing when he was with the child, and the mother did not want the child leaving her home for any reason.
Justice Pazaratz, in his endorsement, did not allow the matter to proceed on an urgent basis, and in so doing, provided guidance on these types of matters by stating:
“None of us know how long this crisis is going to last. In many respects we are going to have to put our lives “on hold” until COVID-19 is resolved. But children’s lives – and vitally important family relationships – cannot be placed “on hold” indefinitely without risking serious emotional harm and upset. 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, now more than ever.
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 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).
In some cases, a parent’s personal risk factors (through employment or associations, for example) may require controls with respect to their direct contact with a child.
And sadly, in some cases 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 the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk.”
Justice Pazaratz confirmed that the Court will be dealing with COVID-19 parenting issues on a case-by-case basis. His Honour also set out helpful guidelines for lawyers and their clients to consider before bringing forth an urgent motion at this time. These considerations include:
- The parent initiating an urgent motion on this topic will be required to provide specific evidence or examples of behavior 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.
- 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.
Justice Pazaratz stressed the importance of parents acting responsibly at this time and attempting to problem-solve before initiating an urgent proceeding. His Honour indicated that the Court will be looking to see if parents have made good faith efforts to communicate; to show mutual respect; and to come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness.
His Honour goes on to remind us all that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing anxiety for everyone, especially children. Children need all of the adults in their lives to behave in a cooperative, responsible and mature manner. Now more than ever “families need more cooperation…. and less litigation”.
HGR Graham Partners LLP remains open and ready to serve our clients. We have adopted measures to communicate with our clients, and new clients, by teleconference, email and video conference. If you have a question about your family law matter, please call our offices at 705-737-1811 to speak to our family law team.
*The content of this article is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of any kind. For information or legal advice on your individual circumstances, please contact Our Family Law Team.