ATHABASCA - Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) is encouraging parents to get creative to keep the holiday spirit alive, while still following custody orders.
While the orders must still be followed, there is the added confusion of what is allowed under current Alberta Health Services (AHS) restrictions, said LAA staff lawyer Jeff Keller.
“A court order is a court order and COVID will not stop that court order," he said. “The judges are saying no, that order has to be followed as much as you can follow that order, but AHS has requirements and restrictions that come on top of that.”
There has been clarification though, Keller added, noting that parents are to maintain a bubble for the child or children, even if the kids are not in that home at the moment, and to avoid using a third party to move the children between parents..
"Those orders stay in place so, if there's already a parenting order and parenting plan in place, that should stay in place, except in some sort of urgent situation," said Keller. "Each home is a bubble for that child and the parents need to maintain that bubble, even if the kid isn't with them during that time. So, the child should be safe in each home because mom’s keeping her home safe, dad's keeping his home safe, and the child can carefully go back and forth."
LAA has noted many parents have been able to set aside differences during the pandemic to work together, but it is not uncommon for one parent to use the pandemic as an excuse to not follow custody orders.
“Judges don’t have a lot of patience for that,” said LAA staff lawyer Jessica Chapman in a media release. “There have been a few cases where judges have taken a really hard line and said, ‘You’re trying to keep the kid away from the other parent and so we’re going to flip the custody arrangement around.”
Some orders also have a third party that takes the children back and forth between parents, but again, LAA's advice is for both parents to put differences aside for the sake of the children.
“Some people use third parties to do the driving back and forth and things like that; that technically shouldn't be happening anymore,” Keller said. “That's where mom and dad are now going to have to start cooperating because there's not going to be a hope in heck getting into court at this point.”
Keller suggests meeting in a public area like the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant and safely allowing the children to move to the other vehicle and to focus on making the unique circumstances around a pandemic holiday about the children.
“Cooperate as much as you can, come up with plans and alternatives that even though it's not in the order, if you guys are agreeing to that it's fine,” he said. “The focus needs to be on the safety of your child and making sure you're not spreading COVID. And then the other part of it is, make sure your child is still having an enjoyable holiday and a good Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever and keep them out of (family conflict) as much as possible.”
More information can be found on the LAA website at https://www.legalaid.ab.ca/news/child-custody-visits-holiday-pandemic-covid-19/
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