January 25th, 2022

Shared custody needs to put children’s safety first

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 16, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyers are urging Albertans who share parenting responsibilities but live separately to put their child’s safety first during the holidays as we approach a second holiday season with the threat of COVID-19.
“It is important for parents to remember that they have to follow all of the laws at once, and what has made it extra complicated in the last two years is trying to factor in COVID restrictions on top of their parenting order,” said Jessica Chapman, Legal Aid Alberta staff family lawyer.
Chapman said that parents with shared custody of children need to be open with information and put kids first when planning holiday celebrations and visits. 
“Each parent has some say in how you see risk and what they will tolerate. They can’t dictate to the other parent what the risks will be in their home, so you need to share information and be a bit flexible,” said Chapman.
She said there are many families that can separate without needing judges to tell them how to do their parenting, but court orders are there for those who need to be told and they need to follow them, unless they can make some sort of alternative agreement.
“What they need to know is they have to follow their parenting order and the COVID restrictions at the same time,” said Chapman.
Chapman said parents need to follow court orders when drawing up visitation plans that mitigate the risk of infection and keep their children connected to loved ones.
“I want to make sure they know that their children are members of each of their household, so when they are counting households, you don’t have to count children that go back and forth as a separate household,” said Chapman.
She said that should hopefully make it easier for parents to then apply any COVID rules over top of their court order.
“Regardless of what kind of relationship you have with the other parent, you don’t want your child to be at risk of losing someone in their family. It’s not about convenience,” said Chapman.
When it comes to high conflict situations, Chapman said it is best that parents stick with the court order.
“Usually by the time you’ve gotten a court order, you’ve sort of established that there isn’t that flexibility there,” said Chapman.
In those situations she says she hopes parents would think about things from their child’s point of view, as the actual date of Christmas is not as important to kids as it may be for adults. Kids are generally happy to celebrate more than once.
“I have it on good authority from Santa Claus that he is willing to change his schedule. He will visit the same children at different houses. It’s really not a problem from Santa’s point of view,” said Chapman.
Chapman points out kids have experienced a lot of loss over the last year. Some may have lost important people to them, but even if they have not lost anyone, they lost their activities and routines and a lot of the stuff they used to take for granted, from normal day to day activities.
“So I really want everybody to try and be kind to everyone else and act in the spirit of the season,” said Chapman.

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