The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented. Given that the situation is new and constantly evolving, many are anxious and worried about keeping their loved ones safe. As the rest of the world is busy trying to find ways to cope, divorced and separated parents are facing their own unique and difficult challenges.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the government has introduced quarantine and social distancing measures. Public health officials have made it clear that given these extraordinary times, there must be a change in our daily routines. People are being asked to stay home, avoid crowds and refrain from touching one another.
But what exactly does social distancing mean for children of separated parents that are travelling from home-to-home?
Social Distancing and Co-Parenting
It is understandable that parents are confused and worried about how to exercise social distancing while continuing to allow their children to have meaningful contact with both parents. Although there are no easy answers, one thing does remain clear: court orders are meant to be respected and followed.
Parents with existing access orders and schedules should find safe ways to continue the arrangements that are in place. The courts have held that existing parenting orders reflect a finding that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child. By putting a child’s relationship with the other parent on hold, a parent risks causing serious emotional distress to that child. The courts have made it clear that in these stressful and troubling times, children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents.
It is important to understand that the current pandemic should not be used as a weapon by one parent to restrict the other parent’s access. In most situations, existing parenting arrangements should continue and be modified to ensure that all the precautionary COVID-19 measures are being complied with. In the context of social distancing, both parents should ensure that they are following the advice of government and public health officials and engaging in safe practices in their own homes. The court has held that there will be zero tolerance for any parent who fails to abide by COVID-19 protocols and recklessly exposes a child, or members of the child’s household, to any COVID-19 risk.
There may be situations where a parent may have to make the difficult decision to forgo their access time with a child in order to avoid exposing that child to the virus. Where a parent has recently travelled out of the country or has been exposed to someone who is ill, that parent may be required to self-isolate and refrain from seeing the child until the quarantine period has passed. In other situations, a parent’s unique employment circumstances may put them at higher risk of contracting the virus, thereby resulting in further precautionary measures that need to be taken. Whatever the situation, now more than ever, parents need to work together to find flexible and safe parenting solutions that adhere to the COVID-19 protocols.
Some Useful Tips for Co-Parents
The following are some useful tips to help separated and divorced parents work together during this stressful time:
- Unless a parent has a medical or self-isolation issue, the existing parenting arrangement or schedule should continue, subject to any COVID-19 modifications to ensure that all government and public health official protocols are being followed.
- If you are unable to care for a child due to illness or self-isolation, communicate this to the other parent so that they can look after your child during this time.
- Stay child focused. Now is the time to work together for the sake of your children. Children are also facing stress and anxiety during this crisis, and they should feel comfort knowing their parents are working together as a united team to keep them safe.
- Stick to your regular family rituals to make your children feel as comfortable as possible during this time, including regular bedtimes and meal times.
- If you are in self-isolation and cannot see the child, maintain frequent communication through the use of video chat.
- If a parent misses access time with a child due to COVID-19 related concerns, the other parent can offer make-up time with the child once the parent has completed his/her quarantine or self-isolation period.
- Given all the recommendations on how to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, set a good example to your children by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, and making sure that you practice social distancing at all times. Let the other parent know that you and all the members of your household are following these guidelines.
- Think about how you would like the other parent to behave towards you during this difficult time and model that behaviour. Be accommodating and open. Things are changing very quickly and you have to both be willing to adapt. Now is the time to work together to ensure that your children stay safe, healthy and worry free.
For further information on this issue and how it may affect your particular situation, please contact one of our family lawyers to set up a consultation.
This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and does not constitute, any legal, accounting or tax advice and should never be relied upon in this respect.