I cannot stress enough the importance for parents to work together especially now that we are in the midst of the COVID-19 virus. It seems that an Ontario Superior Court Judge feels the same.
Justice A. Pazaratz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice had much to say to the mother who was seeking to suspend her child's father's access because of the virus in the case of Ribeiro v Wright, which was heard on March 22, 2020.
What are the issues?
The urgent Motion brought by the mother was to suspend all in-person access for the father because of concerns over COVID-19.
Both parties had been following a parenting plan since 2012. The parties had joint custody of the child with the mother having primary residence and the father having access to his son every other weekend.
The mother stated, in her Motion materials that she and her family are practicing strict social isolation. She had serious concerns that the father would not maintain social distancing during his access time with his son. She further stated she did not want her son to leave home to see his father.
What was the Judge's Decision?
Upon review of the mother’s motion materials, Justice A. Pazaratz did not feel that suspending the father’s access was warranted. Instead he strongly felt that the child’s relationship with both parents is vitally important. COVID-19 does not mean that the child cannot leave the residence to spend time with the other parent.
The Judge's Reasons for his Decision
Although there are many reasons for his decision in this motion, for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the reasons associated with COVID-19 solely.
In his endorsement, Justice A. Pazaratz, stated:
"19. Most of our social, government and employment institutions are struggling to cope with COVID-19. That includes our court system. Despite extremely limited resources, we will always prioritize cases involving children. But parents and lawyers should be mindful of the practical limitations we are facing."
"20. If a parent has a concern that COVID-19 creates an urgent issue in relation to a parenting arrangement, they may initiate an emergency motion – but they should not presume that the existence of the COVID-19 crisis will automatically result in a suspension of in-person parenting time. They should not even presume that raising COVID-19 considerations will necessarily result in an urgent hearing.”
“Right now, families need more cooperation. And less litigation.”
“23. Judges won’t need convincing that COVID-19 is extremely serious, and that meaningful precautions are required to protect children and families. We know there’s a problem. What we’re looking for is realistic solutions. We 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."
"28. I would urge both parents in this case to renew their efforts to address vitally important health and safety issues for their child in a more conciliatory and productive manner."
"30. None of us have ever experienced anything like this. We are all going to have to try a bit harder – for the sake of our children.”
Your kids are already experiencing anxiety associated with COVID-19, they do not need the added pressure of not being able to see one parent. It is always up to you and the other parent to make decisions for the health and safety of your family, including during the pandemic. The Court will not be turning a blind eye to those who use this time to alienate the other party from access to their child. Be safe and work together, for the sake of your children, if nothing else.
Blog posts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.
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Written by Marian Grande, Mediator