How will Covid-19 affect my child custody case and travel?

Camille Boyer, Calgary family lawyer

The concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic have grown exponentially in just a short period of time – and for good reason when you look at what China and Italy are going through. Along with following local and international health recommendations and updates, such as frequent handwashing and social isolation, parents should be proactive about the potential impact the coronavirus could have on their family law case.

One area of concern for parents could be any upcoming travel plans with children. Given the most recent recommendations from the Government of Canada against all international travel, many parents will likely be cancelling such trips they had planned with children in the coming weeks and months. If this were a contested issue - for example, if one parent wished to proceed with the travel against the Government of Canada’s current recommendations - there is a very, very good chance the Court would side with the parent opposing the travel.

Similarly, if a parent is currently out of country or travelling internationally soon, the recommendations regarding self-isolation could complicate their parenting schedule upon their return. While children may not be at as great of risk from the virus than older populations, their exposure to a parent or family member returning home will need to be delayed during the period of self-isolation and a judge is likely to agree with this.

Some of the factors a Court could consider if faced with an Application to suspend a returning parent’s access with a child could include the country the parent is returning from, their reported risks of exposure and efforts at prevention, the other parent’s willingness or ability to care for the child during the suspended access, the child’s health, the child’s age and connection to the returning parent, the returning parent’s proposed plan to limit exposure or transmission to the child and/or to others if the child were infected, and any elderly or otherwise vulnerable family members whom the child could come into contact with after spending time with the returning parent.

Given the current level of concern locally and internationally, however, it is more likely a Court would err on the side of caution in such a situation and prevent any contact with the child until the returning parent has completed 14 days of self-isolation. Instead, a returning parent could arrange Skype or Facetime visits. This would likely be seen as reasonable.

Travel between cities or provinces may also be a concern for parents. Although there are no current domestic travel restrictions in place, you must remember that this could be imminent. If you have plans to travel without your child, cancelling this travel would be a prudent decision at this time as you may be separated from your child for an unknown period if there is a lock down.

As the situation with Covid-19 is rapidly evolving, so too will the decisions of judges in family law cases. If travelling with a child, the Court may consider the mode of travel as a significant factor, as it may be riskier to travel by air than by private vehicle. Also, if the proposed travel is to one of the major cities in Canada such as Vancouver, Calgary, or Toronto, this also may pose slightly more risk. However, if the planned travel is to a smaller centre and largely away from public areas, the risk could be viewed as minimal.

A child’s health or the health of immediate family members could also play a large role in the decision to travel within Canada. For example, the parents of a child with a compromised immune system or underlying health condition should know that a judge may feel that any travel poses unnecessary risk.

Some parents may also be concerned about future travel plans in the summer or fall. Unfortunately, as the impact and spread of COVID-19 is largely unpredictable at this time, it is difficult to know how far in the future parents should be planning. It is advisable not to book any international travel at this time.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic raises questions about the day-to-day activities of children. While there are many factors a judge would need to consider if this issue were raised, in most cases, it is likely that the Court would not interfere with activities that comply with the local health authorities’ recommendations. Always remember that in family law, only the best interests of the children matter when it comes to parenting.

Ultimately, it is important to stay up to date with any current recommendations from recognized and reputable sources, including the Alberta Government, the British Columbia Ministry of Health, the Government of Canada, and the World Health Organization. If you are concerned about travel plans or other issues regarding COVID-19 and your custody case remember that in urgent situations you can still access the courts. This includes where there is risk to a child’s life and issues regarding this pandemic would therefore qualify. Also, if you have a non-urgent parenting matter you can still resolve your case with collaborative family law, remote mediation and remote arbitration.

Contact one of the top-rated family lawyers at Crossroads Law for more information on this or any family law or divorce matter. The Calgary family lawyers at Crossroads Law have a history of success in child travel applications and general parenting matters and are committed to staying on top of the recent developments in family law related to COVID-19.