This is a challenging and difficult time for all Albertans. When you are in the middle of a separation or divorce, this pandemic may feel even more frightening and uncertain. You may have lost your job and require a variation of child support; you may have been the victim of domestic violence while self-isolating but have heard the courts are “closed”; or you may be having differences of opinion with your co-parent about important health and medical issues for your children, particularly, whether the children can spend time with a parent due to self-isolation concerns.
We are here to provide some clarity and solutions.
The Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Alberta are still open for emergency family matters, such as emergency protection orders if you are experiencing family violence, and orders to prevent your spouse fleeing the jurisdiction with your children.
The family law Bar is doing its best to accommodate families going through difficult matters. Many family law firms have set up “mini-chambers” within their own firms: this means that if both parties agree, a family lawyer will take on the role of an arbitrator (giving the lawyer a judge-like role and an ability to make decisions on the parties’ behalf) and are available quickly for these applications. Here at Vogel, we are set up to do remote mediation/arbitration.
Vogel LLP is also set up to continue to assist you remotely. This means we can video conference with you, even if you are in self-isolation, and with the current approval of the Law Society of Alberta, can even sign affidavits through video conferencing. We are also able to email the court house for filing of documents during the Covid-19 situation.
The unfortunate news is that the Court is generally not scheduling new dates or continuing matters in family law until further notice. This means that without consent of the other party or willingness to utilize an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, you may not be able to get a variation order in the near future even if your circumstances have materially changed.
We suggest communicating your concerns or change in situation with the other parent. We recommend contacting the other party and giving them updated financial disclosure or Record of Employment if your work situation has changed and you are experiencing difficulty paying the amount of child support you were paying prior to Covid-19. Being transparent and giving notice of your change of circumstances to the other party is an important step.
In circumstances where one parent will not let another parent see the children, it is important to take a look through your contract or Divorce Judgment if you have one, to refresh your memory about your specific rights and responsibilities that were either agreed to or court-ordered. In the event you are missing parenting time, it may not meet the requirements of an emergency application with the court during this public health emergency. However, you can still act. Your lawyer can negotiate on your behalf, you can attend emergency arbitration (with the agreement of both parties), you can agree to make-up parenting time, or you can take practical steps in the meantime such as having video chats with your children. It is not an easy decision and every case will be different, but the key is that we all have a responsibility to put the best interests of children first.
This is an unprecedented time. From our firm to your family, be safe, and continue to put the best interests and safety of all our children first.