Want to plan a holiday with your children and unsure how to navigate the complications around COVID-19? This post is for you. Typically, custody arrangements for summer vacation are typically outlined in a separation agreement. However, COVID-19 has raised confusion and uncertainty as to how summer parenting plans should or shouldn’t play out. This week, we discuss how to navigate disruptions to parenting plans while keeping the best interest of your child(ren) in mind.
Children are resilient, but they are also sensitive to change. Schools are closed and play dates cancelled, and this has increased anxiety, boredom and confusion. Prime Minister Trudeau even gave a special address to children, thanking them for doing their part during the crisis. Although kids are good at adapting, it’s a tough time. This is especially true for children who live between two homes. As summer approaches, it’s important to start considering how vacation plans—and parenting time—will be affected by ongoing restrictions.
Summer Vacation Plans are in Flux
Co-parents share an established parenting schedule. These parenting plans are included in a separation agreement, and outline the following:
- Who will have the child on special occasions;
- Whether the child can travel out of country with one parent;
- Agreeing on how to communicate about the child; and
- What will happen if one parent needs to move to another province or country
It’s likely that parenting time has already had some interruptions over the past few months. Summer vacation will likely be impacted due to the following reasons:
- International travel is restricted
- Domestic travel is discouraged
- Recreational activities are paused
- Summer camps are in limbo
As vacation plans are in flux, so too might be the original plan for how to divide up parenting time. With isolation guidelines still in place, it can be confusing to navigate changes to custody orders. But as we’ve discussed previously on the blog, it is still best to follow the existing agreement as best as possible. This includes arrangements for vacation time.
If You Change it Up, Get it in Writing
In some circumstances, it is appropriate to stray from the agreement. However, this cannot be a unilateral decision, meaning that both parents must consent to the change. If one parent makes a change without the other parent agreeing to it, there may be legal consequences down the road. In the case that both parties cannot come to an agreement, seek out a mediator or lawyer. In urgent cases, you can submit a motion to the Courts, but there’s no guarantee your case will be considered urgent.
Try to remain open to new arrangements as you negotiate changes to a parenting plan. If you and your ex come to agreement on changes to parenting time, get it in writing if you can. Be specific about details, such as when transitions or drop-offs will happen.
Stability is in Your Child’s Best Interest
If you are a co-parent, now is the time to work on a healthier dynamic with your ex for the sake of your child(ren). Talk with your children about changes to the plan, but don’t negotiate changes to the plan in front of them. Your child(ren)’s well-being depends on when, where and how often you and your ex communicate. They need your cooperation and support more than ever, as Justice Doyle emphasized in a recent Ontario Supreme Court case:
As stated in the parties’ first parenting agreement signed October 22, 2019, the children need a structured plan of parenting and care and this must be established and not changed spontaneously based on the parents’ changing preferences. [....] The children need and deserve stability, comfort and predictability in their routine. Despite the current world events, this can be accomplished.