Legal Aid Alberta family lawyers: “Co-parenting can continue but at the same time you have to mitigate the risk for the kids and how many people they’re going to be exposed to.”
Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyers are urging Albertans who share parenting responsibilities but live separately to put their child’s safety first this holiday season.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukkah, Kwanzaa or have other family traditions, parents need to come up with visitation plans that mitigate the risk of infection, keep their child connected to loved ones, and follow court orders.
“This is the time to be creative,” says Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer Jeff Keller. “If you celebrate Christmas, the kids may not get two big Christmases this year but you can still make it fun, even if grandma and grandpa can’t come.”
Keller recommends setting up video or phone calls with extended family on your parenting time so the kids can see everybody. It’s safer from a health perspective and also means “you don’t have to risk driving from house to house in winter conditions.”
Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer Jessica Chapman says although pandemic restrictions have caused some confusion for families who share custody, parents are expected to follow court orders and government health guidelines. Every family is different but the rules are clear.
“The parenting order always comes first and then follow recommendations from Alberta Health Services about co-parenting arrangements,” Chapman says. “If you’re unsure, stick to the court order and send your child where the court order says on that day.”
“I’ve had some files where high conflict parents actually did the opposite and worked together to figure something out.”
Both Chapman and Keller say it’s encouraging to see many Alberta parents coming up with customized visitation plans during the pandemic that both sides can agree on – even from parents who don’t usually get along.
“We’re seeing some interesting and unique solutions,” Keller says. “I’ve had some files where high conflict parents actually did the opposite and worked together to figure something out. They changed the entire parenting plan, I was amazed.”
While many parents have been able to set aside their differences, Chapman says it’s not uncommon to see others try to use isolation as a way to keep a child from the other parent.
“Judges don’t have a lot of patience for that,” she explains. “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.’”
“If your child’s safety is truly the number one goal, it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with a plan, work together, and figure it out,” Keller says. “It’s only difficult if you make it more difficult.”