It’s the question I’ve been asked more than any other since the age of social distancing began: how does this affect parenting time with my children?
While safety precautions must be kept in mind, court orders and agreements for parenting time must be followed by both parents:
Shared parenting can be done safely during the pandemic by following public health guidance, says a Nova Scotia family law expert.
“As long as both parents follow the public health directives they should continue to comply with their parenting orders and agreements,” said Rollie Thompson, a Dalhousie University law professor.
The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang created unnecessary confusion for co-parents on March 31 when he said in his daily briefing that children should remain in one home during the COVID-19 lockdown, Thompson said.
Strang backtracked the next day, acknowledging he was offering a public health perspective and reminded parents to follow court orders and parenting arrangements. He said parents could get advice from a lawyer or Nova Scotia Legal Aid and “if possible and safe to do so … should develop a plan with the understanding that moving about in the community and going from house to house does increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
“I think Dr. Strang should stick to public health and stay away from family law,” said Thompson.
Thompson, an expert in family law, co-wrote the federal government’s Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. He said that the vast majority of co-parents in the province can be counted on to follow the social distancing rules. That includes moving kids from one parent’s home to another.
Thompson’s advice to co-parents and their kids is to follow four instructions during the pandemic:
– continue to comply with parenting orders and agreements;
– comply with public health directives to protect your health;
– when health or other unexpected problems arise, be flexible to do what’s in the best interests of your children;
– and above all, work together and avoid conflict.
The Nova Scotia Judiciary said that existing court orders around parenting time continue to be in effect during the COVID-19 crisis. Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said those orders — including those involving custody, access, contact and parenting — could be negotiated as long as all parties involved agree.
Unfortunately, I’ve already been forced to deal with several cases where a parent either believes the COVID-19 pandemic means they can’t allow their child to spend time with the other parent, or where they’re using it as an excuse to deny access.
If this is happening to you, contact your lawyer immediately. If you aren’t yet represented by counsel, Nova Scotia Legal Aid may be of assistance:
Nova Scotia Legal Aid is offering help for parents trying to wade through the confusion. Lawyers will process emergency family matters for people who qualify for legal aid. Free twice-weekly online chats are also being offered on the Nova Scotia Legal Aid website. Lawyers will be manning the online discussions on family law issues. They are scheduled Tuesday and Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Those who don’t qualify for legal aid can access family summary advice at all courthouses through scheduled telephone appointments.