If you believe you have an urgent court case during COVID-19, first consult with a family law attorney. Regular court operations have been suspended since late March, though urgent matters will be heard by teleconference. But what exactly is considered an urgent court case during COVID-19? For the next two weeks, we answer this question with recent case examples. This week, we highlight examples of recent family law cases that have been deemed urgent in the Provincial Court of British Columbia.
How is Urgency Evaluated?
In late March, the Provincial Court of B.C. issued a notice to the Profession and the Public which detailed the suspension of court operations. It outlined which family law matters would be deemed an urgent court case during COVID-19:
- Requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent;
- Requests to obtain or set aside protection orders, or urgent orders involving parenting time, contact with a child or communication between parties;
- Urgent issues that must be determined relating to the well-being of a child including essential medical decisions or issues relating to relocation, non-removal, wrongful removal or retention of a child;
- Applications to suspend, change or cancel any order for imprisonment or committal pursuant to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act;
- In a child protection case, all urgent matters, including applications for supervision orders or for extension of time, and any other urgent motions or hearings; and
- Urgent cases where irreparable harm will occur if the application is not heard.
Cases Deemed Urgent
Hearing done by teleconference on May 19 & 26, 2020
In this case, the father was denied parenting time with his two teenage kids. Per the existing agreement since 2013, the father has parenting time alternating weekends and Wednesday evenings. However, he had not seen his children since March 13th.
The mother was restricting the father’s parenting time because she was a caregiver for her severely immunocompromised father (the children’s grandfather). Without consultation with the children’s father, the mother moved the grandfather into her home and was caring for him. Because of her father’s condition, doctors instructed that everyone in the household was to remain in isolation to reduce contracting COVID-19. Therefore, she suspended parenting time to the father to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Denied parenting time in this matter was ruled urgent. The father’s parenting time was ordered to be gradually reinstated, and lost parenting ordered to be made up. This decision was based on the reasons (summarized for succinctness; bold text added for emphasis):
- The agreement for alternating weekends and Wednesday nights has been in place since 2013, and has served the best interests of [the children].
- With my order, the mother will have some time to explore other options for her vulnerable father, such as care homes, in-home aides at the father’s residence, and help from friends and family.
- In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will always be risks. These risks exist for children let alone an immunocompromised grandfather. [...] I also believe [the father] is taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions in his household, as are his family’s employers.
- Again, [the father] never agreed to a long-term suspension of his parenting time, and [the mother] made the arrangements with her father without consulting a guardian of the children.
- Importantly, the Judge understood the complexity of the situation: “There are no right and wrong answers here, just perhaps better and worse ones.”
Hearing done by telephone on April 17, 2020
Similar to the previous example, in this case the father was being denied parenting time. The mother moved her and their young autistic son out of her apartment without notifying the father of their whereabouts. There was some sporadic and brief communication between the mother and father. The mother was not willing to allow the father in-person parenting time, but was willing to allow parenting time via Skype twice per day.
An Order was made on March 27th to instate Skype time for the father and son. In addition, there was instruction to seek mediation through Family Justice Counsellors. In the Application for Urgent Hearing, it stated that the mother said the father could have their son over Easter weekend; however, she had since changed her mind.
The father’s denied parenting time was ruled urgent for the following reasons:
- [The father] has apparently attempted to contact the Family Justice Counsellors to try mediation with [the mother] regarding parenting time, and she has not participated;
- [The mother] has apparently not followed the Order allowing [the father] to see [the child] by way of Skype, although she agreed to do so on March 27, 2020; and
- It is not a case where [the father] is simply unhappy with the amount of parenting time he has been provided by [the mother]. [The father] has not had any in person parenting time with [the child] since separation, and an Order appears to be the only way he will be able to see his son. I note that he is seeking the extraordinary remedy of a police enforcement clause.
The Judge noted that because the parents cannot talk on the phone without arguing, the Urgent Hearing would proceed by way of affidavit.
Call a Family Law Attorney Today
Family law matters are complex, and even more so with the Courts closed. If you have an urgent court case during COVID-19, get in touch with us today.