Insight Into How Courts Are Dealing With Urgent Matters During COVID-19

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As we mentioned in an earlier blog, Ontario’s family Courts are largely closed with the exception of urgent matters. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been seeing a few decisions trickle in that shed a light on how the courts are determining what is urgent, and which types of matters are being heard. This week we would like to look at a case involving custody and drug use and how the courts are treating urgent matters during the COVID-19 crisis.

Heard by telephone

Since the courts are largely closed, the matter was held by teleconference, something that is becoming more common as the courts learn to adapt to new ways needed to conduct business. Additionally, the decision noted that materials were submitted via email. Both parties, their lawyers, and the judge attended via teleconference.

Background

The parents separated in August 2019. An order was issued in October of that year setting out a custody arrangement for their child. Each parent was to have custody of the child for part of the week. Additionally, neither parent was permitted to consume any controlled or illegal substances while in a caregiving role. The father was ordered to provide hair-follicles to show that he had not consumed any controlled or illegal substances at all.

An urgent issue

The father’s cousin experienced a drug overdose while in the father’s home on March 8. 2020. The child was in the home and in the father’s care at that time. When the mother learned of this, she brought a motion to request that the father’s access with the child be changed to supervised access or in the event that supervised access could not occur during COVID-19, that it be suspended.

The father stated (and the mother accepted as fact) that when the overdose occurred, he called the child’s paternal grandmother to look after the child while the father used Narcan to revive his cousin. The cousin was removed from the home via ambulance.

The father further stated that the cousin is not allowed in his home and that if he were to show up again, he would call the police.

However, the mother stated she was concerned about the child’s safety. She said she and the father were addicted to drugs while they were together, and that she was suspicious of the father’s abstinence from drugs. She said the father allowed the mortgage on their home to go into default and that he has not paid child support. Furthermore, she noted that the father has not provided hair-follicles to prove he was not using drugs.

The father said that his financial situation has prevented him from meeting his obligations, but that if the mother would pay for the drug test, he would take it.

The court asked the father if he would be ok with the child’s paternal grandmother being present during the times he was scheduled to have custody of the child. He said he would agree to this for the time being, but that it wasn’t something he wanted to see happen long term.

In the end, the court decided it would allow the father to continue to have supervised visits with the grandmother present. If she should not be able to attend during the father’s custody times, the access shall be suspended pending a further court order.

The court stated it will bring the parties together again on June 11.

At Jason P. Howie, we remain open in a more limited capacity than we are accustomed to. Please be aware that most of our staff are working from home at this time. Please contact us by phone at 519.973.1500 or online if you need to meet. We are trying to minimize office visits but can meet virtually as well. We are available to help you determine how COVID-19 impacts your family law issue and to guide you through it in these difficult times.

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