There has been no shortage of parenting disputes related to the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols implemented throughout the country since March 2020. There have been disputes over whether a child should attend school in person, and how a parent’s adherence to social distancing and hygiene protocols should impact their ability to see their children. In a new case out of British Columbia, an unconventional romantic relationship was at the heart of a dispute between former spouses sharing parenting time with their young children.
The mother and father had been married for seven years before separating in 2019. They share equal parenting time with their two young children. The father became an adherent to polyamory after the split from his wife and entered into a new relationship. His new partner is married to another man, and she and her husband are both polyamorous as well. The new partner splits her time between her husband and the father but none of the three are seeing any other people during the pandemic.
The father’s partner stays at his home most nights when he doesn’t have his children with him, and spends the rest of her time with her husband. The children’s mother became aware of this arrangement in March 2020 and expressed concern with the father’s arrangement at the time. However, when stricter health measures were put in place, the mother became increasingly concerned that the arrangement was in violation of those orders. As a result, she withheld her children from the father. Both the mother and father each brought competing applications before the court to determine their parental rights amid the COVID protocols.
In his application, the father said that it was unclear exactly how to interpret provincial protocols as they applied to shared parenting arrangements in general and the court agreed, saying:
These orders are posted on the website maintained by the Provincial Health Officer. They have been and continue to be regularly amended, repealed, and replaced. The messaging accompanying these orders, and indeed the language of the orders themselves, is fraught with inconsistency and ambiguity and it is not surprising that reasonable people can reasonably disagree about their interpretation and application in any given circumstance.
The specific order causing confusion stated as follows:
1. No person may have present at a private residence or vacation accommodation, either inside or outside, a person who does not reside with them;
2. No person may be present at another person’s private residence or vacation accommodation, either inside or outside; and
3. Despite sections 1 and 2, a person who lives on their own (hereinafter referred to as the “resident”) may have up to two other persons present at the private residence or vacation accommodation, if the other persons are individuals with whom the resident regularly interacts. If the other two persons regularly interact with one another, as well as with the resident, they may be present in residence at the same time.
The mother argued that the partner resided with her husband, and therefore was not permitted to also spend time at the father’s residence under the orders. However, the Court found that the father and his partner were not acting recklessly. The Court held that the father was a “person living alone” and therefore was permitted to have a visitor at his place of residence. The Court ordered that the mother permit her children to resume parenting time with the father and to allow additional visitations to make up for the time lost while she withheld visitation.
The mother also admitted that she was uncomfortable with the polyamory aspect of the father’s relationship, and the Court ordered that the mother should be consulted before the father introduced the children to his new partner or to the concept of polyamory in general.
The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman are exceptionally experienced with respect to parenting plans and child access arrangements following the breakdown of a relationship. We will work with you to ensure that you receive a support award that accurately reflects the true financial positions of the parties. Contact our office today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or contact us online.
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