It is clear that we have entered into unprecedented times, and it is understandable that parents are confused about pressing issues during this pandemic. We thought it would be prudent to outline a few frequently asked questions, and share information gathered from the Ontario family law court decisions to date.
This post was prepared on April 14, 2020. Given the rapidly changing nature of the Ontario case law, please read with caution.
I do not want to send my child for an access visit to my partner, for fear of COVID-19. What are my options?
The consensus that the family law courts in Ontario have established is that court orders MUST be followed unless yourself or your child is under quarantine due to travel or exposure.
If there is no court order or agreement, you are expected to follow your child’s routine as to establish normalcy and sense of security. (Jackman v Doyle, 2020 ONSC 1875 – 11)
This is the time to work together to show flexibility, creativity and common sense. 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. (Riberio v Write, 2020 ONSC 1929-9-11)
Can parents make small changes to their agreement for convenience due to COVID – 19?
The answer is yes, but these changes must be agreed to by both parties – preferably in writing. An example would be if the agreement states that you must meet in a place that you are not able to meet at now (fast food place, community centre, school).
Please be aware that COVID – 19 should not be used an excuse to stray from court orders and agreements. Changes should solely be made if the child’s health or safety is at risk.
Can my child partake in video/phone access instead of a physical visit?
A proposal that a child remain with one parent for an indefinite period with only Facetime or other electronic access to the other parent is not in the child’s best interest. It disrupts the status quo and it signals to the child that the parent may not be capable of caring for the child and keeping the child safe. (Zee v. Quon, (March 27, 2020) FS-16-412436 (SCJ)~33-34)
My partner and I do not agree on access, can we still go to court?
As of March 2020, Ontario family courts are only open for urgent matters. Each court decides what qualifies as an urgent matter. Overall, the courts will look at the best interest of the child. We recommend calling our office to establish the best solution to help you through this difficult time.
I have supervised visits; will I now not be able to see my child due to COVID – 19?
Assuming a supervisor or alternate can reasonably be agreed to, there is no reason these visits can’t take place in an open setting such as a park (parks are open although some playground facilities may be closed). Obviously, there are going to be practical issues which arise in making the access arrangements successful from the child’s perspective. If it’s raining, either a sheltered location will have to be found (which may be more difficult in COVID-19 circumstances) or perhaps the visit will have to be rescheduled for a time or adjacent day when the weather is more favourable. These are common sense details which people acting in good faith should easily be able to resolve without taxpayers funding a Judge’s involvement. (Skuce v. Skuce, 2020 ONSC 1881 (CanLII)
I have been let off from my position due to COVID – 19. Am I still expected to pay child support?
The simple answer is yes. If you have a court order, you must comply with the child support payments. Under normal circumstances, if there are issues with payment, a motion to change can be filed with the courts. Due to COVID- 19, payment issues are not considered urgent.
Some options are to seek financial help from the Federal government, contacting the Family Responsibility Office to make a payment plan to pay off any past due payments or to contact the person you make payments to and explain your financial situation.
This situation is incredibly difficult for everyone, so it is recommended to practice good faith when dealing with support and payment situations.
We understand that you might have more questions or a particular scenario you are dealing with. Please notes that the above information is not intended legal advice and is a general information collaborative. Should you have any questions or would like to receive legal advice please contact our office 905-819-1448 or contact the Law Society of Ontario’s emergency family law referral line Toll Free: 1-800-268-7568, General: 416-947-3310.