The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Canadians all over the country to adapt to new ways of going about life. For some people, the return of warmer weather this spring has introduced the ability to spend time at a cottage in order to escape the density of larger cities and to allow for more movement without coming into contact with others. While this may seem like an ideal move for many, separated or divorced parents may disagree over whether one of the parents should be able to take advantage of a cottage, especially if it means isolating with a new partner and their child. This was the situation in a trial heard recently by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

A chance to escape the city

The parents involved share access with their four-year-old daughter. The mother is a physician who is in a high-risk group for COVID-19 due to cancer treatment she has received. The father is a lawyer who has a new partner who also has a child from a previous relationship.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the father and his partner moved to the partner’s parents’ cottage outside of Toronto in order to self-isolate.

The mother is concerned that the cottage is too far from where she lives, and that should the child become ill, she will not be able to receive adequate medical care. The mother sought to either have sole custody of the child during the pandemic, or in the alternative, that the father not be allowed to self-isolate at the cottage.

The positions of the parents

One of the mother’s concerns was that the father was participating in a social gathering of more than five people. He and his new partner did not ordinarily live together before COVID-19 hit, and as a result, the blended family is not a true single household. The court accepted that while they may have been living separately before COVID-19, they began to work from home on March 13, something the mother did as well. However, the mother was concerned that the nanny employed by the father and his partner presented an unnecessary risk to the health of their children. She raised this concern on March 19, and the father and his partner asked the nanny to stop attending the partner’s home as of March 27. They made the decision to move to the cottage shortly thereafter.

The father argued that living at the cottage allowed for the grandparents to take care of the children, and for the parents to take care of the grandparents. He said he was following appropriate COVID-19 precautions, and that nobody in the cottage is exposed to anyone outside of it.

The court’s analysis

The court referenced a recent decision that stated during COVID-19, there should be a presumption that existing parenting orders should be respected and complied with because those agreements reflect “a determination that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child.”

The court found that there was no increase in risk to the child by the father’s move to the cottage. The court found the father to have moved the blended family into a bubble. While the mother voiced concern about the lack of medical access in more remote parts of the province, the court stated there was no public health order related to living at cottages. The court found no reason to prevent the father from living at the cottage during the pandemic and ordered the parents to continue to share access as they had been previously.

To speak with an experienced Windsor lawyer about child custody or support, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, and also by lawyers, counsellors and other professionals.