Parents Disagree About Social Circles During COVID-19

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We’re about eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic and while in some pockets of the country, life has returned to some sense of normal, there are still considerable considerations to take into account for even social transactions that might not normally cause one to think twice. When parents who are divorced or separated have disagreements over what is and is not safe during COVID-19, it could lead to a significant impasse in how they parent. This was what occurred between two parents who recently appeared before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Issue of a new girlfriend

The parents were married on December 9, 2012. They separated in early 2019. At the time of the separation, they had two children, born in 2013 and 2015. Since the separation, the children have lived primarily with the mother.

In addition to asking the court to help determine issues related to child support, there were also questions related to parenting. The mother told the court she was concerned with the father’s social circle during COVID-19. The mother’s concerns came bundled with other complaints about his parenting, including having incorrectly installed car seats on occasion, accepting video calls while driving, and failing to install proper fencing around his swimming pool.

However, the mother’s most important concern was that the father had not been following COVID-19 guidelines. She told her that she learned (through the children, which the father acknowledged) the father had introduced the children to his new partner and her two children. The details of the introduction were not shared with the court.

The mother said this concerned her because the children are in regular contact with her parents who are elderly, and in her father’s case, at increased risk should they get COVID-19.

Mother asks the court to limit father’s social circle

The mother asked the court to limit the children’s social circle (people with whom they could visit without the use of face masks) to her, the father, and her parents. She also asked that the father be ordered to host the children for his overnight visits at his house, and not at any other location. Furthermore, she asked that the father shall not be permitted to allow third parties into his home and that they not visit the home of others.

The court explained that the government’s social circle guidelines state:

Step 1: Start with your current circle: the people you live with or who regularly come into your household.

Step 2: if your current circle is under 10 people, you can add members to your circle, including another household, family members or friends.

Step 3: Get agreement from everyone that they will join the circle.

Step 4: Keep your social circle safe. Maintain physical distancing with anyone outside of your circle.

Step 5: Be true to your social circle. No one should be part of more than one circle.

The father said that he lived alone, and had been living alone since his parents moved to another country. He says the real issue is that the mother does not want him to see his new partner. He told the court both he and his partner follow the Ontario guidelines, but that he did not want to provide his partner’s name to the mother because he was afraid she would show up at her residence or workplace. That said, he told the court he and the children had slept over in his partner’s backyard during the summer months.

Social Circle is Expanded

The court said that the father’s failure to share the identity of his new partner with the mother put him outside of compliance with the guidelines established by the government. The court also recognized the father’s concerns about the mother’s potential behavioural risks related to the partner to have some merit. But the court did not agree with the mother’s position that the father was putting the children at risk by spending time with them and his new partner’s family. The court instead ordered that the new partner and her children be included in their social circle. However, overnight visits would require the permission of both parents.

To speak with an experienced Windsor family law lawyer about divorce and/or spousal support, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.

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