The events of the past few weeks have created uncertainty and stress for everyone. Many questions have been raised by parents who are in a shared parenting situation, either court-ordered, or by way of some family law agreement negotiated outside of court. The answer to every legal question turns on the underlying facts. Therefore, this post is not legal advice but more of an outline of some of the things to consider for parents who share the parenting of their children.
While many things have changed recently, the essential underpinning of family law remains in place: the best interests of the child, or children. Covid-19 notwithstanding, if all parties remain focused on that principle, many questions tend to answer themselves.
It is important to be well-informed but not over-informed. British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix have been providing daily updates. Federal Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has been, similarly, providing Canadians with important information based on the latest and best scientific information. While the measures and enforcement provisions have grown more rigorous lately, the fundamental message remains the same: wash your hands, practice social (or physical) distancing, do not gather in large groups.
In terms of sharing information with the children, be mindful of the impact of current events on their mental well-being. Children pick up on the feelings of the parents. This means that if parents approach the Covid-19 situation rationally and calmly, and follow the public health guidelines, the children are more likely to respond in kind. Be honest and forthright in response to their questions, always bearing in mind of course what is age-appropriate. Be mindful of the amount of online media that your children are exposed to.
Remember that court orders and family law agreements with respect to parenting remain in effect. The courts are currently closed to anything except urgent matters. Absent a compelling reason to depart from the parenting arrangements that are in place, it is incumbent upon the parties to maintain the regular schedule.
That said, with schools closed and many people’s employment situations in flux, now, more than ever, cooperation and flexibility are paramount in dealing with parenting schedules. Even parents in what might be considered ‘high-conflict’ family law matters can take the opportunity to make an extra effort to prioritize the needs of the children.
While the caselaw is scant at this point, the courts seem to be saying so far that in times of stress and uncertainty it is more important than ever that the children have the benefit of spending time with both parents. If circumstances dictate that a child or children must stay with one parent for an extended period, be generous with the other party by working with them to arrange some make-up time.
In family law matters it can feel like there are more questions than answers at the best of times. A knowledgeable family lawyer can help navigate whatever issues you may be facing. Merrill, Long & Co. is here for you, contact us to set up a consultation with one of our family lawyers.