TORONTO — Parents who share custody of their children should continue to split parenting duties with their former spouse during the COVID-19 pandemic, unless there is evidence the kids’ health is at risk, Ontario courts advise.
Though it has reduced its operations due to the public health emergency, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently issued a handful of rulings setting out guidelines for parents confused about how restrictions related to the novel coronavirus affect custody arrangements.
While government and health officials stress the need to stay home, keeping children in their primary residence _ and thus away from the other parent — that is generally not in their best interest, the court said.
“Children’s lives — and vitally important family relationships — cannot be placed ‘on hold’ indefinitely without risking serious emotional harm and upset,” Justice Alex Pazaratz said in a ruling last week.
“In troubling and disorienting times, children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents, now more than ever.”
As such, Pazaratz wrote, the presumption is that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue in the majority of cases, while potentially making changes to transportation or exchange locations to ensure physical distancing guidelines are followed.
Some parents may have to forgo time with their child if they are under self-isolation due to recent travel or exposure to COVID-19, the judge wrote.
Parents who believe their ex isn’t taking the necessary health precautions can file an urgent motion with the court to review custody arrangements, but they must point to specific behaviours or plans that are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols, Pazaratz said.
“There will be zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk,” he wrote.
Justice officials in Quebec issued similar guidelines for parents, stressing the need for collaboration in working out any issues related to the current restrictions.
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“The custody or access order should be complied with as much as possible,” the Ministere de la Justice said on its website.
“However, during this pandemic, you can try to work out new terms with the other parent to minimize travel.”