During this difficult and uncertain time, where things are changing on an hourly basis, it’s not surprising that parents have concerns about the safety and well-being of their children. However, as always, and particularly during this trying time, parents must make the children’s best interest their sole consideration.
On Monday, March 16, family lawyer, Cassandra Drake, attended court on an urgent basis, without notice to the other side. Ms. Drake acted for a mother who was supposed to commence her parenting time with her two children the previous day at 4:00 p.m. On the Saturday before the mother was supposed to start her parenting time, the father sent the mother a message advising her that due to the children’s potential exposure to the virus, he would be keeping them for at least two weeks in order to practice self-isolation of himself and the children. He explained that one of the children had been feeling ill but was given anti-nausea medication and had not had any symptoms since, the father’s partner had been briefly hospitalized with flu-like symptoms but released shortly thereafter. In addition, the father had international exchange students in his home who may have come into contact with other international travelers. The father also told the mother that he did not want her father (the children’s grandfather), who has a compromised immune system, to be exposed to the virus. Nevertheless, the father had allowed the children to attend school on the Friday before the mother was scheduled to start her parenting time.
Despite the email, the mother went to the father’s home on the afternoon she was supposed to start her parenting time. The father refused to return the children and the police were called. The police were unable to assist because the order did not contain a police officer assist clause.
The parties exchanged some correspondence about the issue but the father ultimately refused to allow the mother to pick up the children.
It’s important to note that there is a significant history between the parties in question, including ongoing litigation regarding support.
Ms. Drake argued that the father was motivated by factors other than the children’s best interests, particularly the ongoing litigation. The Master who heard the matter was convinced that the father’s denial of parenting time was not consistent with the children’s best interests. He ordered the return of the children to their mother immediately and that if the father refused to comply, the police could assist.
Although parents may face unique challenges in the current circumstances, it’s important that they do not allow their judgment to become clouded. However, if a parent has legitimate concerns about a child’s potential exposure to the virus in the other parent’s household, that parent should not hesitate to raise that concern.
To assist parents during this difficult time, Dr. Elizabeth Cohen has written an article, featured in Psychology Today, with 10 steps for parents who are sharing custody of children during the COVID-19 crisis.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have released seven guidelines for parents during this unique and difficult time.
Should you have questions about parenting time or custody, please contact a member of our family law group.