Can a Parent’s COVID-19 Vaccination Status Impact Parenting Time?

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Written on behalf of Shariff & Associates

We recently wrote about a series of court decisions about parents who could not agree on having their children vaccinated against COVID-19. This week, we look at two Ontario cases where the courts were asked to make decisions on parenting time involving parents who refused to get fully vaccinated themselves.

Court Restricts Parenting Time of Father with Only One Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine 

In the recent case of A.G. v. M.A., the mother of a two-year-old girl requested the court suspend the father’s parenting time because he was not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Father Claimed Medical Exemption from Second Dose of Vaccine

In March 2020, the parents entered a final consent order granting the mother primary residence and sole custody. In September 2021, they consented to a further order giving supervised parenting time to the father every weekend.

In early October 2021, after the father began exercising his parenting time, the mother learned he had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. He advised her that he had received the first dose of the vaccine but was medically exempt from receiving the second dose after having a severe allergic reaction to the first. He provided a doctor’s note which supported this. The mother subsequently requested the court suspend the father’s in-person parenting time with the daughter.

The mother raised health-related concerns regarding the father, which could adversely affect the health and wellbeing of the daughter if in-person parenting time continued. She submitted evidence that the daughter had certain medical issues that put her at greater risk. The father opposed the mother’s motion based on his assertion that he was medically exempted from the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Court Restricted Father’s Parenting Time to One Weekly Outdoor Visit

The court reviewed the evidence and noted that the daughter faced specific medical challenges that put her at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. It also considered that the father was not fully vaccinated, which put him at greater risk of contracting the virus and passing it onto the daughter.

Concerning the father’s claim that he was medically exempted from the second vaccine dose, the court found the father had not submitted sufficient evidence to support this position. However, the court acknowledged that it had to balance the daughter’s safety with her right to have her father in her life in a “meaningful way.” It noted that in most situations, in-person contact is preferable to virtual contact.

As a result, the court ruled the father would be allowed in-person parenting time once a week, for one hour, only in an outdoor environment. If the weather did not permit an outdoor visit, the father’s parenting time would be exercised virtually. The court noted the father could apply to the court to vary the order if and when he received his second dose of the vaccine or obtained an acceptable medical exemption.

Court Orders Safety Measures During Unvaccinated Father’s Parenting Time

In November, another decision was decided by an Ontario court regarding whether a father’s unvaccinated status should impact his parenting time.

Father Suspended Parenting Time Over COVID-19 Risk to Paternal Grandmother

In L.S. v. M.A.F., the parents had a four-year-old child together. After their separation, the child lived exclusively with the mother, with the father only exercising sporadic parenting time until late 2020.

In February 2021, the father chose to suspend his parenting time to protect his mother from COVID-19 as she had health issues and was unvaccinated. 

Issues Raised Over Father’s COVID-19 Vaccination Status 

In November 2021, she applied to the court requesting supervised day parenting time for the father. She requested the paternal grandfather and aunt supervise the visits due to a history of family violence.

During the proceedings, it was revealed that the father was unvaccinated against COVID-19 as he felt the vaccine was contrary to his Rastafarian beliefs. The mother expressed concerns about the father’s unvaccinated status but felt he should have a meaningful relationship with the child. She requested the father take proper safety precautions and wear personal protection equipment during visits.

The father requested “liberal and unsupervised” parenting time. He agreed he would wear a mask when seeing the child.

Court Sets Out Safety Precautions Against COVID-19 During Father’s Parenting Time

Ultimately, the court granted the mother’s request that the father’s parenting time be supervised. In addition, due to his unvaccinated status, the court ordered the following safety measures to reduce the child’s risk of contracting COVID-19:

  • The father’s parenting time had to be exercised either outdoors or in the paternal grandmother’s home, as she was now vaccinated; 
  • The child could not go to the father’s home because he lived with unvaccinated family members; 
  • The child and the father had to wear masks at all times during parenting time; 
  • Other than the father, the child could not be exposed to any adult who was not fully vaccinated during the father’s parenting time; and
  • If the father or any person that the child was exposed to during the father’s parenting time was experiencing any cold, flu or other COVID-19 symptoms, or had been in close contact with someone who has had such symptoms, or tested positive for COVID-19, within the prior five days, the father was to notify the mother and rearrange the visit.

The safety measures would remain in place unless the father became vaccinated. Additionally, the court provided that the mother could bring an urgent motion to suspend the father’s in-person parenting time if he breached any conditions.

Contact Shariff & Associates for Assistance with Parenting Time Matters

The compassionate lawyers at Shariff & Associates work with clients throughout York Region, Durham Region, Vaughan, and Markham on all types of parenting matters. We understand this can be one of the most contentious and important issues for a couple following a separation or divorce. Our firm’s focus on collaborative family law emphasizes maintaining productive and healthy family relationships rather than encouraging conflict. We will review your specific circumstances with you and work to resolve your parenting matter quickly and with as little stress as possible. To arrange a consultation with a team member, please reach out to us online, or call us at 905-591-4545.