We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress and anxiety to everyone around the world. We also know the impacts from the recommended social isolation and limited services during this pandemic on survivors of domestic violence is critical.
Legal systems are complex and justice can be elusive at the best of times. Now under COVID-19 things are even more complex and distressing. The Legal Advocacy team is here for you, to provide legal advocacy where gender-based violence interfaces with the law, spanning family, immigration, refugee, child welfare and criminal law.
Our legal advocacy team continues to provide the following services via phone appointments:
Assisting women filling out financial statements, applications to obtain an order and notice of motion in Provincial Court.
Writing affidavits to support applications to get Protection Orders.
Writing affidavits to refuse or to obtain relocation
Supporting women in working with and communicating with their lawyer
Assisting women to apply for any other “urgent matters.”
Providing follow up phone calls related to on-going advocacy
Supporting women dealing with immigration system and their precarious status
Assisting women who want to request a family claim that is not considered as an urgent matter, so they can have their documents ready as soon as the court returns to work in its regular basis
Providing one to one legal appointment (via phone) to evaluate and identify their legal situation
We are seeing an increase in calls from survivors of violence who are being forced to deal with or communicate with their abusive partner during this time. Women are sharing that their abusive ex-partners use the pandemic as a tactic to impose power and control through denying or withholding parenting time.
We have also heard from women that their abusive ex-partners are threatening to report them for kidnapping or with holding access to their children, even though women were advised by their transition house or second stage housing that they must stay inside and not send their children for parenting time outside of the house for the health and safety of other residents.
We know it was challenging before, but with social distancing and isolation rules in place, it has suddenly become even more challenging for women.
Co-parenting when safe
If communication is possible, try to develop a plan that will protect children and parents from potential COVID-19 exposure. If either parent has symptoms, it is important to also share that information. If there is agreement to make any parenting changes, there should be documentation about what the changes are and how long the changes will be in effect. This can be done through phone, text, or through a signed document.
Co-parenting when unsafe
Denying any agreed to order means the other parent has the option to apply to court to enforce the order, on an urgent basis.
However, there are times when denying parenting time or contact with a child is possible due to risks of exposure to COVID-19. Parents are responsible for ensuring the best interests of their children, therefore, moving children from home to home may affect their health and safety.
Here are some reasons why you may deny parenting time:
- If you have a medical note from a doctor, nurse practitioner, or instructions from 811 to follow self-isolation for your child’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic
- If you are residing in a transition house, second stage housing, subsidized housing or First Nations Reserves where residents are required to not accept visitors, or visit anybody else’s home during the pandemic
If you believe your child is being withheld from you wrongfully during the pandemic, you might be able to bring this urgent matter to be heard in court. If your abusive partner is trying to deny your parenting time or contact with your child as set out in your family law agreement/order, the court would then typically take action.
Good news: Although Family Court is closed to regular activities, the Supreme Court is still hearing urgent family hearings.
Requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent
Requests to obtain or set aside protection orders
Urgent orders involving parenting time
Contact with a child or communication between parties
Urgent issues relating to the well-being of the child including essential medical issues
Non-removal of a child
Wrongful removal of a child
Wrongful retention of a child
Applications to suspend, change or cancel any order for imprisonment or committal under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act
Urgent or mandatory child protection matters
Complete an Application for Urgent Hearing form and email it to your registry.
If a judge determines that a matter is urgent, a hearing/trial will be scheduled through a hub court (Robson Square in Vancouver, Surrey in Fraser Valley) telephone. These hearings will be conducted over the phone, and a judge will determine if the application is considered urgent.
CITATION: Ribeiro v Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 (CanLII)
Ribeiro v Wright gives us an idea of how courts will approach the issues of Urgent Emergency COVID-19 Virus Child Parenting Applications. In this case, the father had an outstanding application to increase his child parenting time but once the pandemic struck, the mother applied to cancel all of the father’s parenting time because she felt he would not take steps to keep their children safe on his time.
Here is a summary of what the judge said after he declined to hear the application as he did not consider the application urgent or an emergency.
There is a presumption that all orders should be respected and complied with, and that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child.
Basically, they should stick to current agreements or orders unless one of the parents, or any other family member who resides with one of the parents, has symptoms or has travelled recently.
In some cases, custodial or access parents may have to forego their times with their child, if the parent is subject to some specific personal restriction (for example, under self-isolation for 14 days as a result of recent travel; personal illness; or exposure to illness).
Despite the pandemic, children’s lives – and vitally important family relationships – cannot be placed “on hold” indefinitely without risking serious emotional harm and upset. A blanket policy that children should never leave their primary residence – even to visit their other parent – is inconsistent with a comprehensive analysis of the best interests of the child. In troubling and disorienting times, children need the love, guidance and emotional support of both parents, now more than ever.
In some cases, a parent’s lifestyle or behaviour in the face of COVID-19 (for example, failing to comply with social distancing; or failing to take reasonable health-precautions) may raise sufficient concerns about parental judgment, that direct parent-child contact will have to be reconsidered. There will be zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risks.
It is possible to make an urgent application to vary parenting time based on circumstances mentioned above, or to obtain a Temporary (interim) Parenting Order. Also, if a parent withheld a child wrongfully, the other parent has the option to apply to court to enforce the order on an urgent basis. Parents and new partners must be fully committed to following public health recommendations.
Family LawLINE service: 604-408-2172 (Metro Vancouver) or 1-866-577-2525
Lawyer Referral Service: 604-687-3221 (Metro Vancouver) or 1-800-663-1919
To contact legal aid to make an application or seek help with an urgent problem relating to a family court matter that has been adjourned in response to the current Covid-19 situation, please call 1 866 577-2525 or 604 408-2172 (Greater Vancouver).
Homes aren’t safe for everybody. We need your support now.
We appreciate your donations
In dire situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, women-serving organizations such as us here at BWSS need to remain available and provide support to women and their families. Our sources of funding are drastically affected with limited resources, including the recent temporary closure of our social enterprise, My Sister’s Closet due to COVID-19.