Can the Court make adjustments to existing Parenting Time Orders during the pandemic?
In a nutshell ,yes, the Court may make temporary adjustments, if it is in the Best Interest of the Children to do so at this time.
A review of recent judgements in Family Law cases during this pandemic has brought to the forefront the reluctance by Judges to temporarily amend Orders regarding parenting time between the non-custodial parent and their children. In reaching their decisions, Judges have stressed to the Parties involved their need to ensure that all Public Health measures are being followed whilst always keeping the Best Interest of the Children in mind.
The Courts have also stressed that it is important the children maintain contact with both of their parents during this Pandemic. The Honorable Madam Justice McGee stressed on this point in her decision in Matus v.Gruszczynska, at paragraph 21, when she stated, “young children in the attachment phase of development are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of removing a caregiving parent.”
An example of how an Access Order can be amended temporarily is the case of Blythe v. Blythe, wherein the Court ordered that Access between a father and his children take place ‘outdoors’. This was in view of the fact that the father was an essential worker and the mother was concerned that he might contract COVID-19 and then infect the children during his time with them.
It is worthy to note that the Court did not make this decision without some reluctance as noted at paragraph 12 “ For the reasons set out below, I have determined that it is in the best interests of the children to vary the existing temporary order … to provide that for the time being, the [father’s] parenting time with [the children] should be reduced to daytime visits for limited periods of time, in an outdoor setting with some very limited exceptions, and subject to a number of conditions regarding safety precautions to maximize the protection and safety of the children, their immediate family and their extended family members.
In continuing in the said paragraph 12, the Honourable Madam Justice Deborah L. Chappel, went on to note that while the father’s Access was being temporarily restricted, his sacrifice during this unprecedented time should never go unnoticed. “I wish to emphasize that this decision has not been taken lightly, is a temporary measure only, and is not intended in any way to reflect upon the [father’s] love and commitment to his children or his general parenting abilities during the time that he has had with them. I emphasize that from this court’s perspective, the [father] is one of the many heroes of this tragic pandemic: an essential worker who has demonstrated a strong sense of civic duty by continuing to serve members of the public who are in need during an exceedingly difficult time. It is one of the very sad ironies of this situation that courageous essential workers like the [father]are finding themselves caught in the middle of challenging parenting dilemmas such as the one that I have been asked to resolve, on top of all of the onerous responsibilities that they are shouldering to ease everyone’s way through this difficult time.” Emphasis added.
Justice Chappel also stressed on the fact that these adjustments to Orders were only temporary and they are guided by the best interests of the children involved: “However, all parents and the court must nonetheless remain focused on the best interests of children in dealing with these types of situations, and this will unfortunately at times necessitate that parents make sacrifices regarding the nature and extent of their time with their children for the overall benefit of the children. As other judges have emphasized, solutions that are implemented during this period will in many cases be intended as short-term measures to address unique challenges that none of us have had to confront during our lifetimes. The courts must not to view such temporary solutions as creating new “status quos” as we emerge on the other side of COVID-19. Such is the situation in this case.”
It is important for all to note that not all situations will fall under this precedent. Each case will be assessed on its own unique facts. This is merely an example of how adjustments may be made to Access Orders during this Pandemic.
This Article is meant for information purposes only and not meant to be a replacement for Legal Advice. An experienced family lawyer can help parents navigate through the amendments to existing Orders during this pandemic. If you have questions about making these decisions or any other Family Law issue, please contact Kavita Ramnanan via email or on 647-625-9661.
 Matus v. Gruszczynska, 2020 ONSC 2353 (S.C.J.)
 Blythe v. Blythe, 2020 ONSC 2871
 Paragraph of Blythe v. Blythe, 2020 ONSC 2871
Kavita Ramnanan is an associate lawyer in Toronto at Rose Law Firm.
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