An Ontario court recently set out a list of rules to be followed by two parents and their children after the mother accused the father of not following COVID-19-related health guidelines and introducing third parties into his social circle.

Parenting Case Delayed Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

The parents were married on December 9, 2012 and separated on January 27, 2019, although the father did not move out of the matrimonial home until March 25, 2019. They have two children, aged seven and five, who had primarily lived with the mother following separation. 

A motion was set to proceed on March 25, 2020 on the issues of decision-making, parenting time and child support. However, the closure of the courts on March 16, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the matters being adjourned to a later date.

The court addressed issues of parenting and child support. Of interest, however, was part of the mother’s motion in which she objected to the father’s social circle in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mother’s Complaint Regarding the Father’s Social Circle

In her motion, the mother raised a number of concerns about the father’s care of the children. 

However, the mother’s most important complaint was that the father had not been following COVID-19 guidelines. The mother alleged  that he had introduced the children to his new partner and her two children. The mother claimed this was a major concern because she and the children are in regular contact with her elderly parents who were at an increased risk of harm. 

In her motion, the mother sought the following COVID-19-related relief:

  • An interim order that the children’s “social circle” must be limited to the parents and the mother’s parents; and 
  • An interim order that the father would have all overnight visits with the children at his home and would not exercise overnight access with the children at the home of any third parties. The mother also asked that the father not permit any third parties into his home when the children were with him and not visit the homes of any third parties, except for day visits which would be limited to no more than three hours in duration and during which all third parties must follow all provincial protocols, including wearing facemasks and practising social distancing.

In response, the father explained that he had been living alone since February 2020 and that he had been compliant with social circle guidelines. He claimed that the mother’s concern was related to her desire to prevent him from seeing his girlfriend. He had communicated to the mother that his girlfriend and her two children also followed the Ontario guidelines. The father had not provided the mother with other information regarding his girlfriend because he said the mother suffered from anxiety. Further, he was concerned that the mother would stalk the girlfriend, show up at her residence or workplace and investigate her private life. Finally, the father also alleged that the mother had not followed social circle guidelines because their children had had outside contacts with the mother’s friend.

Courts Sets Out COVID-19 Social Circle Rules

The court found that the father had not complied with the Ontario government’s social circle guidelines by failing to identify his girlfriend by name and by not seeking the mother’s agreement in advance to introducing the girlfriend and her children to the parents’ children. However, the court also found that the father’s concerns about the mother may have had some merit. Additionally, the court found that the nature of the children’s interactions with their maternal grandparents was unclear and there was no evidence as to why any interaction with the grandparents could not be done via video-call or Skype. 

Noting that the children themselves presented no medical issues, the court ordered that:

  • Both parents must ensure that they and their household members adhere to all Ontario public health guidelines for COVID-19 in force;
  • The children’s circle would include their mother, father, themselves, their maternal grandparents, the father’s girlfriend and her two children. Additionally, each parent would be permitted to increase the children’s circle by two people of their choice provided they agreed to comply with the recommendations in place; 
  • Both parents must insist on hand washing, social distancing and masks being worn where distancing is not possible, if and when the children are exposed to anyone who is not in their social circle. Additionally, the children would not be allowed to travel with anyone who was not part of the parties’ circle nor may anyone outside that circle reside in or stay overnight in the home while the children are present in it;
  • Travel, including an overnight by the children with a member of their social circle, could only occur with the written permission of both parents given in advance;
  • The children would not be permitted to attend any indoor events, social, or recreational activities other than within the household of a parent or a named person who was in the circle without the prior written agreement of both of parents. If the children were in the house of a named person in their social circle, hand washing, and physical distance or masking must be maintained by anyone present who is not in the children’s circle; 
  • The children could attend outdoor events, or outdoor social or recreational activities that comply with the applicable public health guidelines, provided they attended only with members of their social circle and the circle maintained its distance from all others present or everyone in the circle wears a mask. Hand washing immediately after the activity would be mandatory.  Notice of the children having attended any such event or activity must be given to the other parent; and
  • A copy of the terms of the court order must be provided to every adult member of the children’s social circle. 

Get Advice 

At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.