COVID-19: What to do when court is not an option

The British Columbia Supreme and Provincial Courts have suspended regular operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that litigation, for the most part, is temporarily no longer an option (please check the respective court notices for up-to-date information).

Unfortunately this does not mean that family law issues won’t arise in the meantime. You may need to deal with new issues like a sudden reduction in income, attendance at daycare, or parenting time changes.

So what do you do when an unexpected conflict arises between you and your ex? You may want to consider any or all of the following:

Do nothing. Depending on the circumstances, this may not be a wise option. But, to string together two old sayings: patience is a virtue and this too shall pass.

Communicate.  Write to the other side. Listen. Negotiate. You may need to adjust expectations but recent court decisions during this crisis have heavily emphasized the importance of collaboration between parties (refer to Provincial Court decisions posted on their website here or refer to CanLII).

For instance, if you’re wondering what the other parent is doing to keep your children safe from the virus: just ask!

Talk to your lawyer. If you have a lawyer, reach out and discuss your options with them. We are an essential service which means, although most law offices may be closed to the public, lawyers and support staff are available by teleconference, videoconference, email, zoom etc. We may also make safe arrangements to meet in person at our discretion. And, if the matter is truly urgent, court may still be an option.

You may also want to prepare for when the courts reopen. Just because you are not going to attend a court date does not mean you can’t prepare for one. Both parties still need to provide full disclosure, particularly for financial issues. You can prepare affidavits, applications, and financial statements, and have them ready for filing once the Health Authorities ease restrictions.

It’s fair to expect we will experience delays once the courts reopen, so it is a good time to consider what can be done outside of court. 

You may want to consider mediation or arbitration. 

Family Justice Counsellors may be available for parenting issues, but note their limitations. For instance they do not address family property and debt division.

You can also still complete the Parenting after Separation course online, which is a requirement in Rule 5 jurisdictions like Surrey Provincial Court.

Here are some other options, though this list is not exhaustive:

It’s a good idea to check for updates on Supreme and Provincial Court websites, and as always seek legal advice from a family law lawyer in your area to clarify what is required or recommended for your particular case in light of COVID-19. 

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