Custody and Access During Covid-19
By: Curran Tompkins, Associate Lawyer
We have all lived through unprecedented times because of the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic. From limited interactions with family and friends, school shut-downs, business closures and day to day living, we continue to experience challenging situations and we all endeavor to do our best in following “the rules”. This extends to our obligations with respect to custody and access in separation and divorce proceedings. Luckily, the Province of New Brunswick has published a recent document that helps to give us guidance with respect to our custody and access arrangements during Covid-19.
What happens when you and your former spouse’s households are on a different provincial or national border?
If there is a joint custody order in place, anyone travelling to facilitate children sharing their time between parents is considered necessary travel. You must, however, pre-register with the Travel Registration Program for a Frequent traveler pass. This is available online and registration is free. You will also need to bring supporting documents such as the Custody Agreement or a letter signed by both parents describing the agreement when crossing the border. You are also not required to self-isolate once your return to New Brunswick, though you must test negative for Covid-19 on a weekly basis as per the direction of the Mandatory Order. Your children may also continue to attend a childcare facility and/or school, but keep in mind the normal obligations for testing based on new and ongoing symptoms.
Do you have to respect the custody and access order or legal agreement?
Simply put, yes. You must and you should always make the best possible effort to comply with any custody and access orders. With that being said, you also have the obligation to comply with the public health and management orders, in place by the provincial government. For example, if you must self-isolate due to symptoms of Covid-19, you will have to forego your normal access or parenting time.
How should parents manage custody and access issues during the pandemic?
There is no best answer to this question. However, in the best interest of the children, parents should collaborate to the best of their ability to protect everyone’s health and safety. The Covid-19 epidemic will not result in automatic suspension of all in-person access. It may be necessary to find other ways to spend time together (for example Skype, FaceTime, Zoom) and minimize transfers between households.
What if we cannot reach an agreement about temporary changes to our custody and access arrangements due to the pandemic?
In the event that agreements cannot be reached, it is a reality that you may need to contact a family lawyer or Legal Aid Services. The province offers a video series called “For the Sake of the Children” that can help inform parents about the legal issues involved in family law matters and various ways to resolve differences out of court.
Custody and access during this time will continue to be a challenge during this unprecedented. If you have any questions or concerns, never hesitate to contact us.
DISCLAIMER: The publications on this website are intended to provide information of a general nature and not legal advice. The information contained in this publication is current to the date of the publication and may be subject to change following the publication date.