Skuce v Skuce (2020 ONSC 1881): The Skuces separated in May 2019, with three young children. The children have lived with their mother since then, spending time with their father in informally supervised settings. The father is a recovering addict who has been clean and sober for various periods of time, most recently since November 2019. He lives at Sobriety House, an addictions treatment facility in Ottawa.
In March 2020, they signed Minutes of Settlement that provided for increased access, but all of it supervised, either by the children’s mother or the father’s mother or stepfather. The father wished to revise that arrangement so that all access would be supervised by his parents. The mother’s response was that the children should only see their father by videoconferencing. She had concerned that the children would not be protected from possible illness because the father was living in a communal situation.
In the lengthiest COVID-19 family court decision to date, Justice Doyle reviews the facts and existing Minutes of Settlement carefully, as well as the Practice Directive issued by the Chief Justice on March 15th and the few cases already decided on the issue of urgency.
She notes that “These are exceptional and unusual times for everyone. . . Our world, as we know it, has changed dramatically. . . It is an understatement to say that people are experiencing anxiety and scrambling to understand how to navigate this new reality.”
Justice Doyle makes the decision that the matter is urgent, in part because:
“It is vital for the children of separated families who have parenting times with caregivers be provided with some certainty.”
She also notes that Minutes of Settlement, signed after the onset of COVID-19, were in place when the mother made a unilateral decision to impose a different arrangement: “The Court cannot be seen to condone this type of behaviour. Without citizens obeying existing court orders, the whole justice system would be turned over on its head.”
The judge stresses the importance for the children to have stability and to have regular contact with their father and rules that it is in the children’s best interest to spend time with their father at his parents’ home, supervised by them, as long as the father moves there from Sobriety House. She imposes a two-week social isolation period, during which the father can spend time with the children electronically.