During this period of social distancing due to COVID-19, parents are surely asking themselves: how does this impact my custody arrangement? Should I be shuffling my children between two homes when the government is mandating everyone to stay home?
On March 25, 2020, François Legault, Premier of Quebec, announced that children in a shared custody arrangement should ideally be staying with one parent right now due to COVID-19. He added that the stricter parent is the one who should have custody of the children at this time.
In response, family law professor Alain Roy was shocked by this statement and encouraged the premier to rectify his stance in order to prevent parental disputes as quickly as possible. Professor Roy stated that the real threat is parents who are not taking the crisis seriously and respecting the measures, for example who do not wash their hands religiously, who let their children play with the neighbours’ children, and who are not taking the necessary precautions.
At Spunt & Carin , we understand both the Premier’s and Professor Roy’s points of view, however parents need to understand that they need to respect the judgments that are currently in place. This is not a time for parents to be derogating from what the courts have already decided. Furthermore it is imperative for the children to at minimum have the structure and stability of the custody schedule they are accustomed to, as it is the only normalcy in their lives at the moment.
Even though the courts favour shared custody where possible and always encourage co-parenting their children, if one parent is a health care worker and for example is being exposed to the virus on a daily basis or if the parent has travelled recently, they should on their own make the decision to self isolate from their children. At the end of the day, it is the children’s health and safety that is the most important thing. If parents can agree that for this period of time, for the safety of the children, it makes more sense for them to stay in one home until COVID-19 passes, that is a potential solution. It has to be on a case by case, hopefully amicable basis without the necessity of interference of lawyers.
In any other scenario if both parents are strict, and are respecting social distancing the children must continue to see both parents in accordance with custody and regular residential schedule. The problem occurs when one parent is not taking this a seriously, and or using it as an excuse to withhold the children.
Legault’s statement will cause a lot of conflict between divorced parents if one parent believes they should have the children full-time and it can lead to parents taking advantage of the current crisis for their own gain.
We will stay tuned to see how this develops in the upcoming weeks. Furthermore, the courts are only hearing urgent family matters, to limit court traffic and everyone’s exposure.
We urge parents to work together during this time and to truly think about the best interests of their children. Our children are already confused about not being able to go to school and their life as they know is turned upside down, therefore it is their parents’ job to maintain as much stability and status quo as possible for them.
For more information on this topic, click the following link: https://www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/coronavirus/questions-reponses-garde-enfants/?fbclid=IwAR1Y9clVBThYh_gL4JfzsmSv_6uXb2Dk914xpY6rbjtkLzrJn8giOvIsG_I