19 Apr Tensions mount for divorced parents trying to follow coronavirus containmnent laws, custody orders
CALGARY — Calgary family lawyers say they are struggling to advise their clients through unprecedented times as parents wrestle with custody orders and calls for social distancing to contain COVID-19.
One divorced father says the coronavirus has disrupted his co-parenting arrangement.
“It’s hard to communicate back and forth to have an actual solid idea of how to navigate through this,” said Mike Gerbrandt, a father of two sons, aged 13 and 10.
When his ex-spouse was sick, he made the decision to skip one of the scheduled custodial visits and the children are quarantined at home with him.
He says he may look to a remote mediator to help any dispute that may arise.
Family lawyer Sadaf Raja says there’s only one recent case in Ontario where a parent applied to the court to deny the ex-spouse all in-person access to the child amid COVID-19.
‘More cooperation, less litigation’
According to the public court document Ribeiro v. Wright, the concern was that the father would not adhere to social distancing guidelines and cause harm to their nine-year-old son.
Justice Pazaratz denied the motion saying “right now families need more cooperation and less litigation.”
Raja says this example has helped her counsel her clients, but with courts shuttered for everything but emergency orders, parents need to come up with solutions.
“It’s crucial the parties work together to come up with agreements that work for everybody,” she said. “This is not the time to manipulate or use the situation in your favour.”
Last Thursday Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, addressed the difficulties divorced families are going through.
“Certainly I would not say that this current situation means that parents or children would need to chose which household they stay in.”
Fairway Divorce Solutions has started offering remote consultations and a downloadable template for a COVID-19 Interim Plan.
“It doesn’t have to be legalized, it doesn’t have to be something formal, it just needs to be the two of you on the same page,” said Karen Stewart, founder and C.E.O.
Stewart also advises that the plan can be drafted virtually, and should be posted in the homes of both parties.
“There’s something that happens when people commit to a plan and put it in writing, and no time like the present to come up with a short-term plan,” she said.
As for maintenance payment orders, Alberta’s government website says temporary payments can be arranged.
However, the maintenance enforcement program case worker must be contacted directly with proof of lost income.