Family Court Judges in Ontario are increasingly expressing concern over parents who fail to take the COVID-19 protocols seriously and are putting increasingly harsh Orders in place to manage it.
On March 31, 2020, Justice A. Doyle of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa made an Order granting one parent exclusive possession of a matrimonial home where the other parent was not taking the situation seriously. In that case, two separated parents were following a pre-COVID-19 parenting arrangement where the children remained in the matrimonial home and each parent took turns caring for them in the home (called a “nesting” arrangement). In the face of COVID-19, the parents decided they would live together in the home with their children. The mother had a health condition that made her more vulnerable to the virus. However, the father chose not to take the situation seriously. Although he claimed to be following COVID-19 protocols, he left the home daily, would not answer the mother’s questions truthfully about where he had been or if he had washed his hands, and he failed to wash his hands. All of which increased the Mother’s anxiety and threatened her health.
The Mother brought the case before the Family Court on an urgent basis asking the Court to grant her exclusive possession of the home. This would mean she had the legal right to live in the home and the Father would have to move out. Exclusive possession Orders are quite rare in family law cases. After hearing their evidence, Justice Doyle decided to grant the Mother’s request for exclusive possession and decided the father’s contact with the children shall be by electronic means only. Justice Doyle did allow the Father to bring the case back to the Court after April 17, 2020 to provide the Court with details of the measures he has taken to minimize the risk to the family and specifically of how he has avoided contact with others since the date of Order.
While the facts of each case are different, the message is the same – parents must take this seriously, follow all COVID-19 protocols and be transparent with the other parent about what is being done. If they do not, the Court can and will significantly curtail their parenting role.
Many parents act in a child-focussed manner and therefore may not need this reminder. However, it is helpful to know the Family Court is able to help if a situation exists where a parent is not taking the concerns over COVID-19 seriously.