Douglas v. Douglas: Terminating Access during the COVID-19 Outbreak
Further to the Chief Justice’s Notice to the Profession, which limited courts to hearing only urgent and emergency matters during the COVID-19 outbreak, the father in Douglas v. Douglas brought an urgent motion seeking to reinstate his access pursuant to the status quo, being alternating weekends and alternating Thursdays. The matter was heard by Justice MacPherson on March 25, 2020.
The parties have a child who is 6 ½ years old. The father alleges that the mother has demonstrated a pattern of denying access, albeit he last saw the child during the weekend of March 13th to March 16th of this year. However, on March 18th, the mother advised the father that the child will now remain in her care due to concerns regarding the father’s potential exposure to COVID-19 at work and him taking the child for a play-date with another child. When the father proposed to have access visits over FaceTime, the mother initially agreed but it appears that these calls were never in fact implemented.
The issue to be determined is whether this matter was urgent. Justice MacPherson held that it was not. While parenting time is understandably a matter of great importance to the father, this case was not urgent or an emergency because there was no indication that the child’s safety was at risk.
The Chief Justice’s Notice defines “urgent and emergency matters” in the context of family law as pertaining to “the wellbeing of a child including essential medical decisions or issues relating to the wrongful removal or retention of a child”. Although the total removal of the father in the child’s life is likely contrary to the child’s best interests even during these times, the father’s motion could not be seen as urgent. Nevertheless, Justice MacPherson reminds the parties, and the public, that actions taken in these unusual circumstances may very well be judged, once court operations resume, as not being appropriate or in a child’s best interests.
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