COVID-19 has proven to be challenging for families across the country. For families where parents are going through divorce or separation, there may be added complications stemming from the pandemic. Such complications were perfectly captured in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, where one parent wanted to stay with their children in Newfoundland, while the other parent wanted them returned home to Ontario.
Mother travels to Newfoundland with children
The parents were separated in 2015 and had a litigious divorce process which was finalized in 2018. The Divorce Order stipulated that the mother would have primary custody of their three children (aged 13, 16, and 18) while the father would have them every other weekend as well as one or two weeknights depending on the week.
The mother has family in Newfoundland, and the family used to travel there twice a year while the parents were still together. Now that they are divorced, the mother still travels there with the children.
COVID-19 impacted the mother and children’s ability to travel to Newfoundland. They cancelled a trip this summer. Restrictions were lifted by September, but by this point, the children were already back at school. As a result, the mother told the father that she wanted to take the children to Newfoundland for a longer Christmas trip. They would have to self-isolate upon arriving in Newfoundland, and as a result, the parents agreed to a one-month trip, which was scheduled to end on January 7, 2021.
Mother wants to stay in Newfoundland with children
Upon arriving in Newfoundland, the mother told the court that the children reacted positively to the looser regulations around COVID-19, including being able to have Christmas dinner with their extended family. She said the youngest child, in particular, began to show signs of anxiety while hearing about how COVID-19 was getting more serious in Ontario. The mother asked the father if they could extend their time in Newfoundland, and while he was open to extending the trip for a few days, he now wanted the children to return immediately.
The issue became a point of stress for the family. The children told the father that they wanted to stay, and the father told the court he felt like he was not being informed about how the children’s feelings had changed until the decision to stay had been made. He said he has long felt as though the mother makes important decisions about the children without his input, with this being the most recent example.
A matter best left for counselling
The court stated that the parenting order the parents have in place states in its very first paragraph that the parties would be required to retain a professional “to facilitate and mediate resolution of parenting issues which may arise,” something they had not done. The court was critical of their failure to employ this path to resolution and ordered that they do so before returning to the courts to have the issue settled. The children were to stay in Newfoundland while the matter was being negotiated, but the court did state that it was not to become their permanent home and that they would have to return at some point.
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