By Wells Family Law
On March 15, 2020, the Alberta courts, including the Provincial Courts and Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench announced the suspension of the majority of sittings.
In Provincial Court, non-urgent family matters which were scheduled to be heard between March 16 and May 22, 2020 were adjourned for ten weeks from the scheduled court date or to the next closest court date thereafter with the exception of:
- Matters with statutory limitations or deadlines
- Family matters where there is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or the child
- Child Protection matters,
- Where there is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or the child;
- Where there is risk of removal of a child;
- Apprehension orders;
- Initial custody hearings; and
- First appearance after apprehension.
- Mandatory reviews or show cause hearings under
- the Child Youth and Family Protection Act;
- Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act;
- Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act;
- Mandatory Drug Testing and Disclosure Act; and
- Health Act.
- Warrants; and
- Emergency Protection Orders
The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has also limited hearings to those deemed as emergency or urgent matters only. Emergency matters are those in which serious consequences to persons or harm to property may arise if the hearing does not proceed, or if there is a risk of loss of jurisdiction or the expiration of an existing protection or restraining order, including:
- Orders where there is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or the child
- Orders where there is a risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction
- Emergency Protection Order Reviews
All other matters are adjourned sine die (indefinitely) or are cancelled and need to be rescheduled.
The case of Riberio v Wright out of Onatario sheds some light on what is “urgent” in these extraordinary times. In this case, there was an existing court order in place setting out parenting time for each parent, and the mother, who was the primary care giver, sought to reduce parenting time for the father. The mother’s household was practicing social isolation and she would not the child see the father. The mother brought an application to suspend the father’s parenting time, with her primary reasons for doing being social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Justice in this case declined an urgent hearing. The Justice found that there is a presumption that existing parenting orders should be respected and complied with, subject to any modifications that may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to. While recognizing that there will be no easy answers, with each family having their own issues and complications, the Justice emphasized the importance of maintaining important parental relationships safely.
The Justice also made it clear that the existence of the COVID-19 crisis will not automatically result in a suspension of in-person parenting time, nor will it necessarily result in an urgent hearing. Each matter will be heard on a case by case basis, considering:
- “Specific evidence or examples of behavior…which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols”
- “Parenting responding to such an urgent motion will be required to provide specific and absolute reassurance that COVID-19 safety measures will be meticulously adhered to”
- “Both parents will be required to provide very specific and realistic time-sharing proposals, which fully address all COVID-19 considerations, in a child-focused manner”
- “Judges will likely take judicial notice of the fact that social distancing is now becoming both commonplace and accepted, given the number of public facilities which have now been closed. This is a very good time for both custodial and access parents to spend time with their child at home.”
In this case the Justice, while finding that the mother’s concerns about COVID-19 were “well-founded”, was not “satisfied that she has established a failure, inability, or refusal by the father to adhere to appropriate COVID-19 protocols in the future.”
Important Lessons to Takeaway from Riberio v Wright
Parents now, more than ever, need to come together and work together to “show flexibility, creativity, and common sense- to promote both the physical and emotional well-being of children.” Judges will be looking to “see if parents have made good faith efforts to communicate; to show mutual respect; and to come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness.”
Given all of the disruption and confusion, now is not the time to be making changes to your existing parenting schedule. While it is a scary and confusing time for us adults, as we do not know when this is going to end, it is all the more difficult for children who are not capable of understanding what is happening in the world around them. Your children need you to reassure them that everything is going to be ok, rather than fighting or litigating with a former spouse.
We are living in an unprecedented time. Kathleen Wells and her team of family law professionals at Wells Family Law are here for you at this time of uncertainty as unprecedented issues arise. Some issues we may be able to assist you with include questions surrounding:
Child Support Payments
Do I still need to make payments? What can I do if I am not receiving child support payments?
Custody and Access
What happens if my parenting time has changed? In light of recent events, and the closure of schools, many families are finding themselves having to adapt quickly to social distancing and quarantine.
There has been a disruption of my vacation time with the children over spring break, how can I make up this time if the other parent isn’t willing to cooperate?
Contact our office today for help with these issues and more. Stay well!