Co-Parenting and COVID-19
In this difficult and rapidly changing time when many are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize this presents particularly unique challenges to parents who co-parent their children. The normal stresses of coordinating tasks and responsibilities are even more difficult with parents managing childcare, changing job requirements and restricted social interaction.
Out of Province Parenting Time
There are many families in PEI where the parents are separated or divorced, and one parent lives on PEI while the other parent lives off-Island. Many of these families may have a court order or legal agreement that sets out the parenting time (parenting time and access) arrangements – that is, when the children will spend time with each parent. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for children and their parents. The CPHO has developed a process to support families during these challenging times.
Children and their parents can leave and enter PEI for the purpose of parenting time exchanges. For PEI residents and PEI children returning from custody travel off PEI, the reason for travel at the point of entry (e.g. Confederation Bridge, airport) must be identified as custody.
Parents who are PEI residents dropping off or picking up children off-Island for parenting time exchanges may be considered exempt from the requirement to self-isolate. Parents must only go to the designated exchange location and make no other stops. They cannot go shopping, visit friends or visit any other public spaces. See Same day travel off-Island for PEI residents for more information.
Children and parents who are not residents of PEI require a pre-travel approval to enter and stay in PEI.
Parents from out of province may enter PEI to pick up or drop off children for parenting time. Parents who are not PEI residents require a pre-travel approval in order to enter PEI unless they use the Borden Exchange Area to pick up or drop off the child. If entering PEI with pre-travel approval, non PEI resident parents must follow the guidance below while in PEI.
The pre-travel application requires that non-PEI resident children/parents entering PEI must submit a copy of a travel document letter with the consent of the other parent verifying the parenting time arrangements (usually a court order or separation agreement). While completing the application form, for “What is your reason for Entry” select “Essential Travel” and then “Parenting Time (custudy/access).”
For anyone who has travelled outside of the province (a child or parent has completed their visit outside of PEI and returns home, or a child or parent from out of province has arrived in PEI for parenting time), the following guidelines must be adhered to during the first 14 days in PEI:
- Seek testing at days 0-1, 4-6, and 9-11. If leaving PEI within 48 hours of the next scheduled test, a test must be completed before leaving, if at all possible on the day of departure.
- If the child is arriving from outside of the Maritimes, where at all possible, self-isolate with an adult away from the rest of the household until the first negative test result is received.
- Parents arriving from outside of the Maritimes must self-isolate away from the household/child/children until the first negative test result is received.
- Cannot attend sports (practice, games, and team gatherings) and parties.
- Cannot go to public places. This includes, but is not limited to, grocery stores, shopping malls, banks, places of worship, restaurants/bars, arenas, and gyms;
- Cannot visit or host people from outside of your household;
- Keep circle of contacts small. Only have contact with household members.
- Must go to a drop-in testing clinic immediately if you develop symptoms and isolate with everyone in the household until a negative test result is received.
During the first 14 days, the person who travelled may:
- Interact with members of their household, unless they develop symptoms
- Go for a walk, run, hike, or snowshoe for exercise and outdoor recreation with members of their household off their property;
- Visit a park, beach or other outdoor public space. The space should not be crowded, and if they encounter people from outside their household, they must wear if able a non-medical mask and maintain a distance of two metres or six feet;
- Attend necessary medical, dental, and healthcare-related appointments (e.g. physiotherapy);
- Go for a drive with members of the household. Drop off and pick up household members at school, work or recreational activities;
Pick up groceries or other items purchased online or by telephone and using a drive-thru (for example at a restaurant, bank or pharmacy);
Once the first COVID-19 test is completed and a negative result received the child may attend school/daycare provided:
- Wears a non-medical mask if able at all times when at school/day care
- Adhere to all other Public Health Measures: staying home when unwell, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.
- Further testing must be completed at days 4-6 and 9-11.
Provided the traveller follows the required measures, there are no restrictions on the other members of PEI resident household who did not travel during or following the visit, other than standard public health measures in place for Island residents.
PEI resident parents or children returning from custody related travel outside of PEI who must work in the 14 days following return to PEI are eligible to do so, provided the following conditions are met:
- You do not work in long term care or community care in which case you are not permitted to work-isolate during your first 14 days in PEI.
- you have applied and received a letter from the Chief Public Health Office confirming you are permitted to work (this process will be initiated after reporting your reason for entry to PEI as related to custody travel at the point of entry or you can reach out ahead of time to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Have the support of your employer;
- Closely follow the testing schedule
- If arriving from NB or NS, you must be tested at 0-1 days, 4-6, and 9-11 (if still in the province);
- If arriving from outside of the Maritime provinces (outside of NS and NB), the testing frequency is every second day in the 14 days following arrival in PEI
- If you are leaving within 48 hours of your next scheduled test, you are required to get tested before leaving
- Follow work-isolation protocols when in the workplace, including physical distancing, wearing a mask, and frequently washing/sanitizing your hands;
- Must not have symptoms of COVID-19 and must go to a drop-in testing clinic immediately if you develop symptoms and isolate with everyone in the household until a negative test result is received
- Follow all directions provided outside the workplace, as outlined above;
- Be tested before you enter the workplace. You may report to work before receiving a negative test result following travel within the Maritimes (NS and NB), provided:
- Your PEI employer has granted permission;
- You do not work in health care, meat packing plants, fish plants, correctional facilities, schools, early years centres or day cares, in which case a first negative test result is required before entering the workplace;
- You are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or feeling ill; and,
- You follow all other measures including maintaining physical distancing and wearing a non-medical mask while in the workplace.
Parenting Time Questions and Answers
Why are parenting time arrangements still continuing during the pandemic even when one parent lives outside of Prince Edward Island?
Continuing parenting arrangements is important for the health and wellbeing of children and their parents. Prolonged separation is not healthy. As well, many parenting time arrangements are court ordered and legally binding and must be upheld even during a pandemic.
Why are children not required to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from travel outside of Prince Edward Island?
If children who must travel off-Island to exercise their parenting time were required to self-isolate after each visit this would have a harmful impact on the children.
As PEI residents, if my child or I travel outside of PEI for custody purposes, does the rest of the family in PEI need to limit their activities as well after we return to PEI?
Only the people who travelled must limit their activities during their first 14 days back in the province, provided all measures are followed including the testing requirements outlined above. If these measures cannot be followed, the entire household must isolate.
I am a non-PEI resident traveling to PEI to visit with my child. Does my child have to isolate, test or limit their activities after I leave?
While on PEI you can interact with your child provided you follow all of the measures listed above for individuals travelling, including testing and isolating from all others except your child. Your child is not required to be tested or limit their activities during your visit or after you leave, provided you follow the requirements.
Why are children allowed to be “tested” out of self-isolation?
Children are not tested out of self-isolation. Rather direction for testing and guidance is provided on extra precautions such as wearing a non-medical mask and attending school and day care. These measures provide an extra layer of protection to allow children to continue school and day care after a parenting time visit. The goal is to support families safely while also minimizing risk to the wider community.
The PEI Family Court Counsellors Office and the Family Law Centre recommend this is the time when it is most important that parents take the following steps to provide the support and assurances that children need:
- ensure that children have as little disruption in their parenting time as possible;
- maintain court-ordered parenting time schedules to the greatest extent possible; and
- remain vigilant in keeping conflict away from your children.
Remember: A pandemic is not a reason to keep your children away from their other parent. Regular parenting time schedules should be maintained, unless someone is self-isolating or under quarantine.
How do we practice physical distancing during an exchange?
When possible, parenting exchanges might happen at a public parking lot, assuring that adults remain the recommended physical distance from each other. You should ensure that children’s hands are washed frequently. Clothing, toys, and other personal belongings should be washed after each exchange.
How do we parent from two or more homes if self-isolation is required or someone develops symptoms?
If you are parenting a child from two or more homes, the following is suggested in circumstances of self-isolation:
- A child cannot travel back and forth between households for the period of the self-isolation.
- If you or someone in your household is required to self-isolate, notify your co-parent of this right away, so that the two of you can make a plan that’s safe for the children, even if that plan means temporarily altering the parenting schedule in your court order or parental agreement;
- If the children cannot spend physical time with one parent due to self-isolation contact between the child and their other parent can be achieved other ways, such as through phone calls and videoconferencing (e.g. Skype or FaceTime)
What happens when the self-isolation period is over?
When a self-isolation period is over, try to provide make-up time to the parent who missed out on time.
I returned from a trip outside of PEI (without my children) today so I am required to self-isolate for 14 days. However, our order says that the children are supposed to have parenting time with me starting tomorrow. What do we do?
If you are required to self-isolate and you do not currently have the children in your care, but your parenting schedule indicates the children are supposed to return to your care before your self-isolation is over, talk to your co-parent about whether the children can remain in their care until you are finished self-isolating. If it is not possible for the children to remain in your co-parent’s care until you are done self-isolating, discuss whether the children can stay with another trusted adult until you are finished self-isolating.
The children and I just returned from an extended trip outside of PEI, so we are all required to self-isolate for 14 days. However, our parenting agreement says that the children are supposed to go to their other parent’s house tomorrow. What do we do?
Notify your co-parent immediately that you and the children are required to self-isolate. If the children go to your co-parent’s house before the children’s 14-day self-isolation period is over, that means that your co-parent and everyone in their household could be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and they will also have to self-isolate for 14 days. If there are other children in your co-parent’s household, or if people with compromised immune systems live there, your children should not stay there if at all possible until your children are done self-isolating. If possible, the children should remain in your care until the children’s self-isolation period is complete.
At the same time, parents must be willing to adapt these rules if they or other household members require self-isolation or present as symptomatic.
Guidelines for parents of children living in two or more homes
Recommendations of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
- BE HEALTHY – Model good behaviour for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched. Maintain social distancing, and self-isolation, if ordered by the PEI Chief Public Health Officer. Follow the guidance of the Chief Public Health Office found online.
- BE MINDFUL – Maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. At the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate. The Hospital for Sick Children created an online hub for resources on coping with COVID-19, while supporting children's mental health and wellbeing.
- BE COMPLIANT with Court Orders and Parenting Agreements to the greatest extent possible. Court orders exist to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing; if schools are closed, for example, parenting schedules should remain in force as though school were still in session, to the greatest extent possible. If your visits or exchanges were supposed to occur through the Supervised Access and Exchange Program (which is not operating during this pandemic period), you are encouraged to contact your lawyer. However, note that temporary changes to parenting schedules may need to be made if a family member is required to self-isolate.
- BE CREATIVE – Some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis, and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. In such situations, plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see your child by way of shared books, movies, games, FaceTime or Skype.
- BE TRANSPARENT – Try to agree on what steps each of you as parents will take to protect the children from exposure. Parents should inform each other right away if a child is showing any possible symptoms of COVID-19.
- BE GENEROUS – Try to provide make-up time to the parent who missed out on parenting time, if at all possible. Generally, judges expect that parents will make reasonable accommodations, in situations where it is safe to do so, and judges will take seriously concerns raised in later court filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for their children. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It is important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their children safe.
Child Protection Services
It is important to know that Child Protection Services may consider a child to be in need of protection if the child is considered at substantial risk of suffering harm caused by failure of a parent to protect a child, such as if a parent knowingly exposes the child to a situation where the child is at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Every Islander has a duty to report known or suspected case(s) of child abuse. To report, call 1-877-341-3101 during business hours (8:30 am - 5:00 pm) and 1-800-341-6868 after-hours and on weekends.