Alberta Family Courts Weighing in on COVID-19 Parenting Matters

Alberta now has its own written Court decision for emergency parenting applications. In SAS v. LMS, 2020 ABQB 287, the father of two children applied to have the current parenting arrangement enforced after the children’s mother informed him that their children would be staying with her due to her concerns with his conduct during the current COVID-19 environment.

While the Alberta Courts are still only hearing emergency or urgent matters, which require special permission from the Court to be heard, Justice Graesser made it very clear that unilateral actions, or what are frequently referred to as “self-help remedies” will not be accepted as proper. Justice Pazaratz’s point in Ribeiro v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829 (previously reviewed by the McCuaig Family Law Group) continues to apply to Alberta families: parents need to act responsibly and try to attempt some simple problem-solving before they initiate urgent court proceedings. Parents need to seek court intervention before making any changes to their existing court orders if they cannot agree with the other parent, except in extreme circumstances. If you think such circumstances could apply to you, please contact one of our Family Law Group lawyers for further advice.

Justice Graesser provided a 9-point summary of his conclusions as to what the Court will consider when assessing parenting in the face of COVID-19. These considerations include: acting in reasonably and with good faith; following court orders; COVID-19 is not an automatic change in circumstances; and, parents who are non-compliant with COVID-19 safety measures can expect no second chances.

A second issue in this case was that of “cohorts” (two groups who do not live in the same home who may interact due to each group being positive the other is properly isolated and uninfected), as the father raised the concept of cohorts in relation to his regular interaction with a coworker and her household. Justice Graesser did not accept the concept of “cohorts” as a loophole to Dr. Hinshaw’s previous suggestion of partnering with a “cohort family”, allowing people to expand their social circle (from her March 26, 2020 announcement). Justice Graesser determined that separated families, who share parenting, are themselves a “cohort family” and that strangers or other groups should not be introduced to this “cohort family”, nor should the “cohort family” be introduced to strangers or other “cohorts” unless all families involved are fully aware and trusting with this arrangement. Parents who share parenting cannot establish a “cohort family” with outside people/groups as that would be introducing a stranger to the actual “cohort family”, which consists of separated parents and their children.

With the continued evolution of the Court’s application of COVID-19 safety measures to parenting arrangements, as well as navigating emergency access to the Court, we recommend you contact one of our Family Law Practice Group members at McCuaig Desrochers as we would be pleased to assist you with how to best deal with any parenting concerns you may have.

Cory Dawson is an associate at McCuaig Desrochers LLP and a member of our experienced Family Law Practice Group.

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