The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of our lives. For those who are raising a child with an ex-spouse, COVID-19 has presented some unprecedented challenges for co-parenting.
You may find yourself in any one of these situations right now:
- You have a Court Order or Agreement in place that establishes a co-parenting plan that no longer seems practical to follow. For example, you and your ex live in different cities and the pick up and drop off’s require travel that is unadvisable at this time.
- You recently separated from your spouse and don’t have a Court Order or Agreement in place. You feel you need to establish a formal parenting plan now so that you and your ex are on the same page but you don’t know how to move forward with the process during all of this uncertainty.
- You were in the middle of a parenting dispute before COVID-19. You’re concerned about what happens to the progress you were making in reaching a resolution and how you should parent until matters are fully resolved.
- Whether or not you have a Court Order or Agreement, you and your ex find yourselves disagreeing about issues that are specific to COVID-19, such as what measures you should be taking to participate in social distancing with your children.
Now is the time to start thinking about how you’re going to do exchanges safely and whether you need to modify your parenting schedule. If you have a good relationship with your ex, you should discuss what measures you both agree need to be taken to participate in social distancing while following the recommendations of your local government. By discussing these changes now, you can reduce the possibility of legal disputes developing.
Perhaps you’ve tried talking to your ex and that led nowhere or you are dealing with someone who is high conflict. While previously, you could rely on the courts and ask a judge to establish a new parenting plan or vary an old one, this may not be an option right now. The B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Provincial Court have significantly reduced their operations. They are only hearing a limited number of matters, including matters that are urgent: However, the situation is changing frequently, as the courts publish regular updates and develop new processes to respond to COVID-19. We suggest you consult with a lawyer to determine whether getting before the court is an option for you right now
You should also expect that when the courts become fully operational again, there will be a significant amount of backlog. All cases scheduled in the Supreme Court to be heard before May 31, 2020 have been adjourned and will be given priority when the courts resume operations.
Luckily, your options for dispute resolution do not end there. There are alternatives – aptly referred to as “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR). The most common forms of ADR in family law include:
- Parenting Coordinators;
- Mediation-Arbitration; and
Many ADR service providers are continuing their work remotely and will conduct meetings by telephone or videoconferencing. For years, family law lawyers have been encouraging clients to consider ADR as an alternative court. All of the options within ADR are generally more cost-effective than court and tend to be less emotionally draining on the parties involved. Further, in ADR you have more control over how the process unfolds than you would in court. For instance, you can select the mediator or decision-maker after carefully researching your options and ensuring it is someone who has the right expertise and who you are comfortable with. You can also decide what rules you are going to follow and what the timeframe will be for each stage of the process.
If you are interested in ADR, we encourage you to speak with a lawyer about which of the several options they recommend in your case. Each form of ADR has advantages and disadvantages, which may make one option more appropriate than another depending on the circumstances. If you are not ready to move forward with ADR but are confused about immediate decisions that you need to make, remember that in family law the paramount consideration is always the best interests of the children.