April 8, 2020

International Parenting Disputes During Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed most people’s everyday lives in a matter of a couple of weeks. This includes drastic changes to the operation of BC’s court and legal system. Effective March 19, 2020 and until further notice, the BC Supreme Court has suspended regular operations of all of its locations. However, the Court will continue to hear “essential and urgent matters”.

What constitutes as an “essential and urgent” matter? Do international parenting disputes constitute “essential and urgent”? For example, what if prior to the travel restrictions, your ex-spouse took the children to her home country and now is refusing to return to BC? Or alternatively, what if your ex-spouse is threatening to take the children to return to his home country because he believes it is safer than BC? 

In the very recent decision of Johansson v Janssen, 2020 BCSC 469 (CanLII), the BC Supreme Court concluded that a jurisdictional dispute over parenting arrangements, which involved ordering a child to be returned from Germany to BC does not constitute an “urgent and essential” matter. In reasoning why it was not an urgent matter, the court said:

[17]        … An order requiring return of the children to British Columbia would have no immediate practical consequences. The claimant recognizes that it could not be implemented until current international travel restrictions are lifted and no one knows when that may be.

On the other hand, the BC Supreme Court released an updated notice to the legal profession on March 30, 2020 that says:

Essential or urgent matters in family proceedings include those in which the following relief is sought:  
Orders relating to the safety of a child or parent due to a risk of violence or immediate harm (e.g., a protection order, conduct orders, or exclusive possession of the home);  
Orders relating to the risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction (e.g., relocation, non-removal, wrongful removal, or retention of a child); and  
Orders relating to the well-being of a child (e.g., essential medical decisions, urgent issues relating to parenting time, contact, or communication with a child that cannot reasonably be delayed). 

In other words, an application for an order to prevent the removal of a child from BC may well be considered to be “an essential or urgent matter” that our courts would hear and adjudicate.  The rationale is that such orders could have immediate practical consequences. If you are concerned that there is a real risk that your ex-spouse may leave BC with your child, you should act as quickly as possible to get a non-removal order from the court. 

Our team at Kitsilano Family Law Group is well-versed in handling international and extra-provincial family law matters. Feel free to get in-touch with us about scheduling a free 30-minute consultation to learn about your options today. 


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