By Avleen K Mokha
Parents who share custody of a child should maintain the agreements they had before the coronavirus pandemic began. If a parent is worried about their or the child’s health, they should communicate with the other parent about safety measures before changing existing arrangements.
Judges offer emergency hearings in case of disputes between parents. A few parents have gone to court due to disputes related to coronavirus, but judges will require evidence that a family member refused to follow guidelines related to the coronavirus.
“No miracle recipe”
The Superior Court of Quebec and the Court of Quebec are the two trial courts in the province. On March 30, Minister of Justice Sonia LeBel suspended cases regarding custody issues.
Parents with immediate concerns due to the coronavirus need to present evidence for their worries.
Family law practitioner Sylvie Schirm says a parent should have “serious, good reason” if they proceed to an emergency hearing.
Quebec’s director of public health Dr Horacio Arruda has stated that “there is no miracle recipe” to manage custody during this time.
“This is a time of enormous instability, Schirm said. “Children’s lives are totally turned over. It’s not the time to have parents fight or to stop the children from seeing parents.”
“Children’s lives are totally turned over. It’s not the time to have parents fight or TO stop the children from seeing parents.”
The ministry website lists certain situations in which a parent should self-isolate. If someone in the family experiences symptoms of COVID-19 or if someone has recently travelled, they should isolate for 14 days. Someone infected with the coronavirus takes 2 to 14 days to develop symptoms.
“Down the road, if you go to court for whatever reason, the judge will look at the behaviour of all parties during this time of crisis,” Schirm noted.
A woman worked as a clinical nurse in the Koartac region of Quebec. She had to leave work because her ex-husband wanted to keep the children.
Although healthcare workers are more exposed to the virus than someone isolating at home, they have the right to see their child as normal.
“Their occupation is not a reason to stop visits, because healthcare workers especially know what safety measures to follow,” Schirm said.
Health conditions in the family circle
Jothi Bajaj is a grandparent with a chronic health condition. Bajaj’s husband is immunocompromised, and the son who shares custody with his ex-partner suffers from a brain injury.
The family arranged to keep the children with their grandparents, but the ex-partner agreed only after the family hired a lawyer.
“You can try to work out new terms with the other parent to minimize travel and agree to maintain contact through technological means,” the ministry site said.
Travelling between regions
In Quebec, Premier François Legault indicated that people should not travel between neighbourhoods. If parents agree to connect digitally, they should do so to minimize travel. However, parents with shared custody reserve the right to see their child in person.
In a recent case, a father travelled within the province despite the provincial guidelines. He has a child with asthma. Judge Marie-Josee Bedard ruled that he cannot see his children till 14 days, but once the 14 day period is over, the arrangements prior to the pandemic will resume.
Resolving conflict with communication
Judge Suzanne Ouellet presided over a case early April in which she called for parents to communicate with each other.
“In this historic period of tumult and social upheaval, the Court recalls that efficient and transparent communication between parents makes sense,” the case document read. “The interest of the children commands it.”
The judge admonished a parent who decided to stop visits without asking the other parent what measures they were putting in place. A concerned parent needs to ask for reassurance that the other guardian is respecting the latest guidelines.
If a parent is blocked access to a child without being consulted, the judge may consider the lack of consultation negatively. Schirm suggests that the parent being limited access should take the initiative to communicate by explaining the safety measures they are taking,
A judge consults sworn statements in court. Communication through phone, email, or social media can serve as evidence against a parent. For example, a judge may consider if a parent posted online about making non-essential trips or texted someone about leaving the household to meet others.
Proceeding to court
If a family is not able to resolve the dispute among themselves, they can proceed to an emergency hearing.
The first step is to hire a lawyer who listens to details specific to their client’s circumstances. Then the lawyer drafts the proceedings and identifies a judge who will listen to the case.
The time it takes to identify a judge varies by districts. However, the process of escalating a dispute to court can be done within a week, according to Schirm.
Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, names of parents have been changed to protect their identity
A version of this article was published on April 17 for the PX News print issue. Click here to read the full issue.