As we transition into working during a pandemic, here are some answers to commonly asked questions.
What are your hours?
Our current office hours remain the same, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM, however, the physical office is closed to visitors during this time as most of our staff work remotely to prevent the spread of the virus.
You can always reach us via phone at 780.758.1006 or e-mail at Info@insightlaw.ca.
We continue to offer mediations, collaborative divorce/separation and other non-court options online. Issue-specific arbitration is also an online option.
Can we still meet?
Absolutely! We can meet digitally. Our firm has always been digitally connected – we can connect via e-mail, phone, text, and video chat.
Some in-person meetings will still be essential, including some real estate matters and wills & estates matters (mainly those pertaining to original document signings). We take appropriate precautions, maintain social distancing, and provide hand sanitizers. And you get to keep any pen you’ve used to sign documents!
What about signing affidavits and filing court documents?
Currently, the Courts and Law Society of Alberta have granted temporary permission to verify ID and commission affidavits via video chat. This means we don’t need to meet in person to confirm identity or commission affidavits. Once we’ve done those things, we can still file documents at the courthouse and get your matter in the queue for a court date down the road.
What about court?
The Court of Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court of Alberta have allowed emergency hearings to continue, and family matters to be triaged by a family docket court. All family matters for which parties seek some sort of relief now must move through the Family Docket Court. Some matters still require in person attendance due to legislation, but the courts have created procedures for those that can move forward to do so via phone or video conference.
They have also restricted access to the courthouse. To enter, you must be:
- a party involved in a matter being heard in court;
- a lawyer;
- a witness;
- a required interpreter, support person, or support worker;
- a member of accredited media;
- a person paying a fine, restitution, bail, or surety on behalf of the accused;
- a person filing court documents; or
- a person approved by a Judge or Justice of the Court.
Attendance at all courthouses will be refused to persons who have been advised to self-isolate by public health officials or their doctor, who are self-isolating as a result of travel or contact with individuals with COVID-19, and those who are experiencing any COVID-19 related symptoms.
What does this mean for my case?
If your case is in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta:
If you have a Civil and Family matter scheduled in June, it will have been automatically adjourned. Any other rescheduling must be made through the family docket court. There have also been new procedures put in place to allow desk applications if your matter meets certain qualifications. Our lawyers are familiar with the new procedures to help cases move forward with this new system. The court is still prioritizing emergency and urgent matters, in which serious consequences to persons or harm to property may arise if the hearing does not proceed, or if there is a risk of loss of jurisdiction or expiration of an existing protection or restraining order, including, but not limited to:
- Child Apprehension
- Emergency Protection Orders
- Initial Custody
- Orders where there is risk of violence or harm to a party or child.
The Court has discretion to decide which matters will be heard and which will be declined.
If you believe your matter is urgent please contact us to arrange for scheduling a hearing or requesting a hearing. Please do not attempt to schedule a hearing in person at the courthouse.
Please note that we are still able to file orders digitally, and all orders filed this way have the same force and effect as a physically filed document.
If your case is in the Provincial Court of Alberta:
The court is now open to receive new family filings together with appropriate fees and these new matters will be scheduled to be heard after July 3rd, 2020.
If you have a child protection matter scheduled, it will remain on the currently set date and in the same court room.
If you have a preliminary or initial hearing, JDR, or trial scheduled on May 25 or later, it will remain on the currently set date and in the same court room.
How can I help my family during this time?
The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has released a document HERE containing 7 guidelines for families with shared parenting arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What about parenting time?
While we understand the need to avoid social contact, it is generally expected that current parenting orders and agreements will be adhered to, with reasonable accommodations by all parties to ensure hygiene and social distancing. Pick-up spots may have to be modified as most indoor facilities are closed, and both families must follow recommended hygiene protocols. If arrangements must be altered because a parent or child is sick, a parent works in a high-risk field, or someone in the immediate family circle has returned from travelling, then try to find temporary alternatives such as digital parenting, including phone calls, video chats, texts, and online games. We have used Zoom to play games with family members online, and it’s pretty fun.
I’m concerned about a co-parent’s hygiene. What should I do?
While it is expected that both parents will, in the best interests of their children, follow COVID-19 health recommendations, if the other parent implements slightly different hygiene procedures during the pandemic, this is okay. Try to remain calm, understanding, and level-headed. Work with the other parent to understand what is acceptable in each home.
The courts will hear emergency matters on a case-by-case basis if you are concerned about danger to your child. If the other party is simply reacting differently but following general protocols, the matter will likely not proceed further. The courts are prioritizing cases where there is a significant and immediate danger to children. Emerging caselaw suggests that parents must follow the appropriate protocols in both homes, and parents should discuss how each family will approach hygiene in a co-operative manner outside of the courts.
If you do believe the other party is endangering the children through negligence or willful exposure, contact us immediately. Please note that there must be specific evidence of negligence and refusal to follow safety protocols.
Should I cut off access to the other parent to protect my children?
It can be very scary to think of exposing your children to a virus for which there is no current vaccine or cure. But it is important to recognize that prior to this crisis, you trusted the other parent to care appropriately for your children. Disrupting children’s routines beyond what is necessary and then telling them that they can no longer see the other parent can have harmful effects on children. Absent neglect or serious negligence, a legal analysis of their best interests could favor them continuing to see both parents.
If you have to isolate because of travel or exposure, make best efforts to continue parenting time online. Parents who are inflexible or refusing to follow court-ordered parenting routines, to communicate, or follow hygiene guidelines may be judged negatively as the matter proceeds at a later date. Courts will consider all parties actions during the pandemic.
We can’t seem to agree on how to proceed. How can I avoid arguments?
This is a stressful time for all families. Try to stick to your previous routines and agreements as much as possible. If you cannot agree, and you are not immediately concerned about your children’s health and safety, contact us. Dispute resolution options such as mediation and arbitration are reasonable alternatives to going to court. They are also less expensive than litigation.
How will child support work? Am I or the other parent allowed to stop payments?
Unfortunately, the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) has determined that because the current pandemic impacts both payors and recipients alike, non-payment of child support is still unacceptable. Some amount of child support must still be paid each month, ideally the full amount.
That said, the MEP is offering temporary payment arrangements and temporary decreases in current payment arrangements to any payors who have lost income as a result of the pandemic. This includes losses due to COVID-19 diagnosis, job loss, reduction in work hours, orders to self-isolate, or needing to care for children home from school or daycare. If you are a payor of child support and feel you fit this criteria, contact your MEP Case Officer for assistance as soon as possible.
Helpful Links Related to COVID-19 and your family:
- Court of Queens Bench Alberta COVID-19 Information
- Court of Queens Bench Alberta COVID-19 FAQS
- Provincial Court of Alberta COVID-19 Information
- Family Mediation Services through the Alberta Government (Services are available dependent on income. Services are being offered through phone call, and are currently experiencing delays but are still available)
- Parenting During COVID-19
- COVID-19 Information for Kids Factsheet
- How to Talk to Your Child about Coronavirus
- 7 guidelines for families with shared parenting arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Childcare during COVID-19