Over the past few weeks, the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has drastically impacted the lives of most Canadians. While many Canadians are experiencing unease related to financial uncertainty, change in routine, and a growing health crisis, separated and divorced parents are facing a new challenge: co-parenting during this pandemic.
Presently, the courts in Ontario presiding over family law issues have restricted hearings to only urgent matters including, but not limited to, urgent child protection matters, abductions, and restraining orders. The Superior Court has recently weighed in on the impact of Covid-19 on parenting time where the parents have an existing family court Order or Separation Agreement.
On March 24, 2020, the Superior Court of Justice in Hamilton, Ontario released a decision of the Honourable Justice Pazaratz in the matter of Ribeiro v Wright. In that case, Justice Pazaratz was tasked with deciding whether the Mother should succeed in her motion to suspend the Father’s access, after the Mother expressed concern that the Father would not maintain social distancing for the child during periods of access.
First, to provide some background. The Mother and Father in this case had joint custody (joint decision making) pursuant to a final Order from 2012. While the 9-year old child’s primary residence was with the Mother, the Father had always exercised access. At the time of the Mother’s Motion, the Father was exercising access pursuant to a Temporary Order from 2019, made on consent of the parties, whereby he had access with the child on alternating weekends from Friday to Sunday.
In the end, Justice Pazaratz concluded that the Mother had failed to establish “a failure, inability or refusal by the Father to adhere to appropriate Covid-19 protocols in the future.” Even though Justice Pazaratz arrived at his decision solely on the basis of the Mother’s evidence (the Father did not file responding materials), which included emails exchanged with the Father’s counsel, Justice Pazaratz was not persuaded that in the circumstances that the Father’s access should be suspended or changed.
Most importantly, Justice Pazaratz highlighted a number of important principles for practitioners and the public alike, as parents, lawyers and judges learn to navigate the current reality, including:
As Justice Pazaratz wisely points out, “in scary times, children need all of the adults in their lives to behave in a cooperative, responsible and mature manner…Right now, families need more cooperation. And less litigation.”
If you have questions about the impact of Covid-19 on your family law matter, or if you have questions about family law in general, do not hesitate to schedule a telephone consultation with one of our lawyers.