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The idea of a blended family, where two divorced or separated parents become partners, may have been a foreign concept many years ago, but is commonplace now. Parents in blended families may still share access to their children with their former partners, something that may not ordinally be an issue, but like many things, becomes more complicated as the world struggles with COVID-19. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice tackles such a situation.

A visit to the United States

The parties involved have four children, and since ending their relationship have gone on to form blended families with new partners. The father and his partner live together and share custody of their children. The mother, though in a committed relationship, does not live with her new partner, though they do stay together when they have custody of their combined eight children.

The mother, her partner, and their children were in Florida in March when COVID-19 began to shut down much of the continent. The children were originally supposed to fly home on March 13, but did not arrive until March 21, doing so via private jet rather than the commercial flight they were originally scheduled to take.

When the mother’s scheduled access to the children was to start on April 2 the father refused to return the children unless she agreed they would not be in contact with her partner’s children. She agreed to this, but later admitted she did not abide by the agreement. The father then withheld the children again until the mother agreed to keep them apart from the other children.

Can conditions be unilaterally applied?

The mother sought a court order to support her position that the father cannot impose conditions for when she has access to the children. She stated that even though her and her partner do not live together full time, they are in a committed relationship and are looking for a house large enough to hold their blended family.

The father argued that the mother does not maintain a “household’ with her partner and that bringing the blended family together is a violation of public health orders, which at the time, limited gatherings to no greater than 5 people who are not from the same household.

The court weighs in

The court referenced a decision that has set a precedent during COVID-19, which holds that “in most situations there should be a presumption that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to – including strict social distancing.” The court found that parents are not entitled to unilaterally alter an agreement or disregard a court order because “they think they know better.”

The court imposed upon the father the onus of demonstrating that his actions are warranted. The evidence presented by the father failed to convince the court that the existing arrangement between the parents risks the health and safety of the children.

The parents were ordered to continue to follow their existing access schedule.

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