Toronto Star reporter, Jim Rankin, interviewed Luke’s Place and other women’s services on the impact of social distancing and self-isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.
Nearing the end of March Break, a woman gets a call from her ex. He says he’s going to keep the kids past his regularly scheduled access, adding: “and I don’t think there’s much you can do because the courts aren’t open.”
Another woman who normally exchanges her children at a police station over her fear of harassment gets an email from her ex saying, plans have changed and he’ll drop the kids at her home — or “I’ll just keep them.”
These are just two real scenarios recently relayed to Luke’s Place, a service for women and children in abusive relationships, amid these new times of social distancing and self-isolation.
Our Legal Director, Pamela Cross explains that many of these women “either haven’t made a plan to leave yet or are at the very early stages of thinking through that.” She goes on to discuss the effect of family court closures.
The decision to suspend most court activity “makes perfect sense in terms of trying to limit the spread of COVID- 19,” Cross said. But for a woman whose family court case has just started, while she and her children may be out of the house, courts likely won’t consider the matter “urgent,” she said.
“So, unless and until my partner does something to harm me or the kids, or does something like not return the children from an access visit, my case has shut down. And we don’t really know when those cases are going to get back on the docket,” Cross said. “So (they’re) left in a state of sort of limbo.”
It’s a dangerous situation, she said, because “abuse escalates at the time of separation. It’s the time period when women are at the highest risk of being killed by their partner.”
Luke’s Place is working with the Law Society of Ontario and the Ontario Bar Association to deliver effective legal services to women who are dealing with abusive situations.
“We’re communicating jointly out across the province, just so that people know there are options that are specialized for survivors of family violence, and here’s how you get them, they’re a phone call away.”