Parents Cannot Unilaterally Alter Access During COVID-19
June 11, 2020
COVID-19 has introduced a number of challenges to families in Alberta and across the country. Parents who are divorced or separated may have found that a parenting schedule that worked in the past is no longer manageable due to the guidelines issued by health authorities at the provincial or federal levels. A recent decision from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench provides an illustration of how courts approach issues concerning access during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Once Worked, No Longer Does
The parents separated in 2013 after being married for five years and having two children. Until recently, they had managed a co-parenting schedule that did not require intervention from the courts. Up until COVID-19 reared its head, the parents had been alternating custody on a weekly basis.
The mother is a nurse and the father is an accountant. The mother learned on March 18, 2020, that the father was continuing to go into his office for work. This was a cause of concern for the mother, who suggested that he work from home or allow her to take care of the kids until COVID-19 passed (she was off work on long-term-disability at the time of the trial).
Despite this request, the parents maintained their schedule. Eventually, the mother learned that the father would occasionally take the children into his office with him and had also taken them horseback riding, and had plans to do so again.
At this point, the mother told the father on April 9 that “the kids are going to stay here next week.” This caused the father to file an urgent motion, which ultimately included requests to keep the original access arrangement in place and to make up for time lost due to the mother’s actions.
The Father’s Position
The father said that he had been physically distancing himself from other employees in his office and that he only took the kids into the office when he had meetings. During these meetings, he said he would leave the kids in the car or in a separate room in the office. He said he made sure the kids cleaned their hands well when going on office visits and other trips, including horseback riding and to the grocery store.
The father further claimed that the mother was not strictly observing social distancing guidelines herself and that her new partner continued to attend at his own office for work. Further, the father claimed the mother had been visiting her former place of employment to offer support to her colleagues.
Parents Asked to Work it Out
The Court’s decision stated that parents should make every effort to address COVID-19 concerns with each other before taking any formal action, including going to court. There was no doubt that COVID-19 had introduced new challenges for parents, and they were expected to commit to the safety measures outlined by health authorities. The Court reminded the parents that unilateral decisions around access are not appropriate outside of emergencies. If the mother and father were not able to work out an arrangement on their own, it would fall to the mother to prove to the Court that the current parenting arrangement was not appropriate rather than making an independent decision to alter the arrangements herself.
Our Family Law lawyers work diligently to successfully negotiate and mediate claims on behalf of our clients. Although we are capable advocates in the courtroom, we know that the best outcome is more often achieved through finding a solution that is mutually beneficial to you and your ex, and in coming to that solution amicably. For advice about child custody and access matters, contact us online or call 1-800-480-3534.