Maintenance, Custody and Injunctions: Covid-19’s Impact on Divorced Couples
Separated couples may be facing unprecedented challenges during the current pandemic.
Carmen Boucher, a barrister and advocate in collaborative law, is answering some questions divorced couples may have. From keeping up with maintenance payments when the economy is weak, to whether or not custody rules have changed during isolation periods, Carmen succinctly explains how the pandemic has impacted her clients.
What impact is the pandemic having on separated and divorced couples?
We are seeing very diverse reactions – for some former spouses, the situation and the lack of control have further ruptured already tenuous relationships. What is really encouraging, however, is that the vast majority of families have banded together and are facing this new reality by working as a family unit, rather than two separate parts.
Custody rules have not changed during this pandemic.
How has the current economy affected divorcees with maintenance and capital obligations? What would you advise them to do?
For families here in Alberta, this weakened economy has been extremely difficult, particularly for those who have financial obligations to former partners or children. If a payor is unable to make their payments, the first step that I would suggest is to contact the other party and see if they can come to some agreement to defer some, or all, of their payment. This pandemic should not be viewed as a free pass to avoid obligations, but both sides must face the reality of the situation and be reasonable if the payor is suddenly facing financial difficulties that are out of their control.
The courts were very quick to implement a procedure for hearing emergency or urgent applications, including those where there are parenting issues.
Have custody rules been impacted? What should divorced couples be advised to do in this situation?
Custody rules have not changed during this pandemic. There continues to be an expectation, as always, that people will follow court orders which are already in place, including parenting orders. Children are experiencing so many sudden changes – they are cut off from their friends, stuck at home 24/7 with siblings and parents, and unable to participate in their regular activities. Cutting them off from one parent, on top of everything else, is bound to have a very negative effect on their mental health. If there is any uneasiness or concern between the two households, I encourage the parents to communicate those concerns in a non-accusatory way. When both parents are focussed on the best interests of the children, and each is making a concerted, genuine effort to really listen to the other person’s perspective, they are much more likely to find a solution that works for them.
Anyone who believes they have an urgent situation involving children should contact a lawyer to discuss their available options.
Has the pandemic impacted urgent applications involving children, including getting emergency injunctions? How do you think this situation should be handled?
The courts were very quick to implement a procedure for hearing emergency or urgent applications, including those where there are parenting issues. For certain matters, people have actually been able to get court time much more quickly than they were pre-pandemic, while others cannot get into court at all.
Any alternative dispute resolution process could assist the parties to find a solution, but it is crucial that they first get legal advice to understand what their rights and obligations are. Anyone who believes they have an urgent situation involving children should contact a lawyer to discuss their available options.
. The process allows people, with the guidance of lawyers specifically trained in the Collaborative process, to focus on the best interests of children, if any, and what is important to each one of them as individuals.
Has it been easier to navigate current divorce proceedings with mediation during the pandemic, rather than litigation? Are you hoping to see a bigger shift in this area, post-pandemic?
Mediation can be a great process for helping couples navigate through divorce and separation at any time, but especially right now. With the courts focussing on urgent issues, mediation and arbitration are some of the best options available for people who want to keep moving forward and resolve their divorce and separation matters.
Our firm has had tremendous success with the Collaborative Family Law process, both before the pandemic and continuing on during the court closures. The process allows people, with the guidance of lawyers specifically trained in the Collaborative process, to focus on the best interests of children, if any, and what is important to each one of them as individuals. They decide how their family will end one chapter of their lives and move on to the next. The Collaborative process provides much-needed flexibility to separating and divorcing couples – it really allows them to keep their power and their autonomy. They know their family best, so why would they want someone who hears a 20-minute summary of their life together to make decisions that will significantly affect their future? That is what often happens in litigation.
I think that, for me, the Collaborative Family Law process is the preeminent choice for navigating through separation and divorce, by allowing the participants to make their own choices in a respectful and supportive environment.
One aspect of the Collaborative process, which is very important, particularly for business owners, is that the process is private. That means that all the very personal information which is discussed during separation, including finances, stays between the parties and their lawyers. Those details are never presented in an open court with the public watching.
I think that, for me, the Collaborative Family Law process is the preeminent choice for navigating through separation and divorce, by allowing the participants to make their own choices in a respectful and supportive environment. This is even more important when children are involved, as there can be many years of co-parenting ahead for these families. A positive relationship between the parents allows the children to really flourish and benefit from what both parents have to offer.
Barrister & Solicitor/Avocate
11210 – 142 Street NW
Edmonton, AB T5M 1T9
P: 780-488-4460 F: 780-488-4783
Practising in Family Law, Wills and Estates, and Adult Guardianship matters, Carmen is passionate about helping clients navigate their legal matters via negotiation and settlement rather than through adversarial processes. However, she also understands that a collaborative approach may not be available in all situations and she will strongly advocate for her client in court when it is appropriate.
She has been a Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer since 2017 and participated in collaborative training for estate lawyers in 2018. Carmen is focused on assisting clients to become more involved in the outcome of their divorce and estate matters in order to better meet their needs.
Carmen is also a trained mediator and is always pleased to help clients who prefer to work together to reach the best possible solution for their family in that manner. Carmen is fully bilingual and is pleased to assist her clients in either of the official languages of Canada.