As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, new questions and concerns arise with respect to its impact on co-parenting. 

Parents are grappling with complicated decisions and competing interests. In these uncertain times, it can be difficult to know exactly what is deemed to be in the child’s best interest.

Fortunately, a few recent court decisions out of Ontario have provided some guidance on how to manage these issues, and links to those cases are provided at the end of this article. The brief decision Ribiero v. Wright 2020 ONSC 1829, in particular, provides helpful direction and is worth a read. (As of the date of posting, there are no published B.C. decisions addressing COVID-19 and co-parenting).

Emerging from the Ontario cases are the following guiding principles:

  1. The health, safety and well-being of children and families remain the foremost consideration during COVID-19. 
  2. There is a presumption that all orders should be respected and complied with. Parenting arrangements should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to – including strict physical distancing. 
  3. 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 in some cases, a parent’s lifestyle or behaviour in the face of COVID-19 (i.e. failing to comply with physical distancing) may raise sufficient concerns such that direct contact is not appropriate. 
  4. In blended family situations, parents will need assurance that COVID-19 precautions are being maintained in relation to each person who spends any amount of time in a household – including children of former relationships.
  5. Important parental relationships must be maintained, but safely. 
  6. In these troubling and disorienting times, children need the love guidance and emotional support of both parents, now more than ever. 

Recently, the Trial Lawyers’ Association of B.C. - Family Law Committee solicited recommendations from B.C. child psychologist and child custody expert Dr. Michael Elterman Ph.D., MBA, R. Psych. On March 26, 2020, Dr. Elterman provided overview advice and recommendations for parents facing the novel complications created by COVID-19. 

Dr. Elterman’s overarching recommendations are in line with the principles established in the Ontario cases, namely: 

  1. Now, more than ever, the criterion of the child’s best interest applies, and the health and safety of the child is paramount; and 
  2. The fact that there is a pandemic should not, in itself, prevent a parent from continuing to meet their obligations unless there is a risk of transmission to a child. 

Also, Dr. Elterman stresses the importance of open communication between parents, and creating a plan for certain possibilities, for example: 

  1. What to do if one of them or a member of their household becomes ill with COVID-19? 
  2. Who is in a better position to have the child in an extended isolation situation?
  3. If in-person parenting time cannot be exercised, what other options exist to ensure the child maintains meaningful contact? For example, FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp video parenting time should be arranged. 

As the judge in Ribiero emphasizes, “we all have to work together to show flexibility, creativity and common sense – to promote both the physical and emotional well-being of children.” 

At KZEL, we are constantly reviewing and considering the recommendations and directives from courts, child development professionals and health officials to ensure our advice is up-to-date in this fluid and developing crisis. 

Also, we recognize that while these recommendations provide helpful guidance, they must be thoughtfully considered and carefully assessed in light of each child’s particulars needs, as well as in accordance with the “best interests” analysis required by the Family Law Act

Even though court operations in B.C. continue to be limited, KZEL remains fully operational in order to provide you timely assistance and to work with you to create practical resolutions tailored to your family’s specific circumstances.  

If you are facing any dilemmas in your parenting arrangements or would like to proactively plan for situations that could arise, our family law team is here to help. 

In addition to providing legal advice, we also offer mediation services wherein we can assist you and your former spouse or partner to revise your parenting plan to specifically address the impact of COVID-19.  

Please contact us directly via our contact page.

Cases to cite:  

Ribiero v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829:

Thomas v. Wohleber, 2020 ONSC 1965:

Skuce v. Skuce, 2020 ONSC 1881:

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