Below you will find information about legal issues and changed legal procedures that may be relevant to your parenting arrangements during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Please note that the materials on this page will be updated as frequently as possible but may not be current.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has created a unique situation for peoples who have shared custody and access with children. The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Family Division, has provided guidelines for parents and guardians with joint or split custody, access, and parenting time. The Court has indicated that if parents or guardians have a court order or agreement in place, they are expected to follow that order or agreement. The COVID-19 pandemic does not change any order or agreement in place, and it is not a reason to deny parenting time. The Court is also encouraging parents and guardians to discuss the appropriate and responsible care of their children.
The guiding principle of family law in relation to custody, access, and parenting is what is in the best interests of a child. Any decision related to custody, access, and parenting of a child should be taken in consideration of what is best for a child in each situation. As such, every person involved in a parenting, custody, or access arrangement (whether through an agreement or court order) are expected to act according to the best interests of a child.
There is currently no specific reported case law regarding parenting, custody, or access during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, the recent decision of Ribeiro v Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 (available online here: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2020/2020canlii23204/2020canlii23204.html provides some insight into how courts in other provinces have handled this situation. This case involved an application for additional access time which was opposed by one party due to the current pandemic. The Judge stated that “The health, safety and well-being of children and families remains the court’s foremost consideration during COVID-19,” and noted that “There is a presumption that all orders should be respected and complied with.”
The judge further stated that “In most situations there should be a presumption that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to – including strict social distancing.“
However, the judge also noted that in some situations, parenting time, access, and other measures may have to be suspended, especially if someone is under self-isolation. Finally, the judge encouraged all parties to resolve custody, access, and parenting time issues among themselves, as much as possible, during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Additional caselaw, such as Ivens v Ivens 2020 ONSC 2194 (available online here: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2020/2020onsc2194/2020onsc2194.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQANaXZlbnMgdiBpdmVucwAAAAAB&resultIndex=2) has discussed family matters during COIVD-19. This case is useful as an example of how courts in Ontario are handling parenting issues in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every case is different. Parties involved in the parenting a child must ensure the best interests of the child. How this looks will depend on everyone involved.
This may mean not having access to a child even though you have an agreement or court order.
On March 20th, 2020, Chief Justice Raymond Whalen asked everyone to “restrict use of Court resources to urgent and emergency matters”. Parties may consider possible alternatives to dispute resolution regarding their parenting, custody, or access arrangements. These alternatives should be made with the safety and best interests of the child(ren) in mind.
When appropriate and in the best interests of the children, alternate arrangements between parties may change or suspend an existing court order or agreement. The Court has also suggested that when in the best interest of the child(ren) a new agreement could include increased communication by telephone or video and increased future parenting time to make up for time lost during the current COVID-19 situation.
If parties are unable to come to an agreement as to how to handle their current custody, access, and parenting court orders and/or agreements, it is recommended that you seek independent legal advice to discuss your options. PLIAN’s Legal Information Line and Lawyer Referral Service remain operational, and people with questions about family law or any other legal matters can contact us for more information at 1-888-660-7788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional updates please visit the Supreme Court (Family Division) of Newfoundland and Labrador website, found under the “useful resources” tab at the top of this page.
Please Note: Courts are currently only hearing urgent and emergency matters.