Foreign Spouse and COVID Custody Troubles

Separated and divorced parents with kids stuck overseas or across the border have had a harrowing five months. Could pleas from Ontario family court judges for calm be falling on deaf ears or will common sense prevail?

COVID Threatens Kids Too

Back in March and April when the pandemic first caught hold in Western nations and Europe, dying of COVID-19 was rare among children and youth. A 21-year-old Spanish football player with leukemia was typical of immuno-compromised young people whose cases went from severe to deadly. But in June a 13-day-old infant from Britain died. Now we know children and youth get COVID-19 and worse, can spread it to parents and grandparents, already at higher risk.

Symptoms Differ in Kids

Children and youth do have lower rates of COVID-19 than adults. Only nine of 550 children under 18 in a study of COVID cases in China, Italy and Spain were severely ill. One who died had other health problems. China’s experience is similar — 90% of children with SARS-CoV-2 had no symptoms. Most were only mildly to moderately ill and many didn’t tell their parents they were sick. 

Signs Your Child May Have COVID-19

Children who did get the disease had a fever, though less often than adults, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Around 73% had a cough and 13% had shortness of breath. A runny nose and sore throat may be symptoms, as can vomiting, diarrhea or nausea. Muscle pain or headache have been reported. Being moody or crying more often for infants are also clues.

Oh, How Sweet It Is

COVID sufferers say one of the first signs they were sick was when they lost their sense of smell. Most adults share that in common. Researchers are still working on whether young people have the same experience. 

Ugh, Those COVID Toes

What’s with those toes? Strangely coloured purple, red or bulb-shaped fingers or toes can be a signal COVID has struck home. COVID toes may appear on their own or with mild breathing issues. They can be painless or hot and hurt. While the frostbite-like lesions don’t call for treatment themselves, they do mean a family needs to self-isolate and let their contacts know. 

Mystery Kawasaki-like Disease Strikes Youngest 

A mysterious syndrome striking kids worldwide showed up in 20 cases this spring at Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. MIS-C, multi-inflammatory system syndrome, has affected over 1,000 children worldwide. The syndrome mimics Kawasaki disease. Signs your child may have it include:

  • a temperature of 38 C or more that comes on quickly and lasts at least 24 hours
  • rash
  • swollen hands and feet
  • dry lips and tongue
  • and sore eyes. 

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned Canadian physicians about the syndrome in May. The Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program says its “very, very rare”. No Canadian children have died of MIS-C, but pay attention if your child has suspect symptoms.

BTW, Most Pets Are Safe

Farmed minks are the latest mammals to get COVID-19, likely from farm workers. Though rare, dogs, cats, ferrets and yes, even tigers, have fallen victim. Other than minks, WHO doesn’t believe the virus jumps from pets to humans. To be safe, avoid letting family pets kiss or lick you or share food from your plate when you are sick. Wash your hands after handling pets’ food or toys.

Social Impacts Hardest for Children

Other pandemic impacts may be more long lasting than the actual disease. Wearing masks is upsetting enough. Missing school and playing with friends can be isolating and confusing for children, who may not understand how serious the pandemic is. Those who do may be anxious or frightened that the people they rely on most could die. Reassure your kids that you are doing what you can to keep them as safe as possible. 

Rules on Crossing into Canada

Of course, you understand your kids should avoid contact with others to reduce their risk of getting COVID-19. But that doesn’t help if your ex-partner has custody and your child is trapped somewhere out of country. Fortunately, the Canadian government lifted travel restrictions on immediate family members June 8. Dependent children, spouses or common-law partners, step-parents and guardians can all enter Canada to visit immediate family members. A 14-day quarantine is mandatory, so make plans in advance for where your child and their companions will stay and how you will get food or other essentials to them.

Stay Calm and Carry On With Custody Orders 

Ontario courts advise divorced and separated parents to carry on with their usual custody orders and parental visits. Urgent requests for custodial changes are only considered for serious matters and Ontario judges have turned down requests to order a child returned to Canada. But a mother was required not to use open houses to sell her house after her ex-partner complained it could expose their 10-year-old. At the other extreme, a mother who didn’t want her nine-year-old leaving her home for any reason was unsuccessful in having custody privileges revoked. Generally, judges are ordering online apps be used for visits if face-to-face contact is unsafe. And if you do have to file a court application, try to do it online.

Legal Advice on Cross-Border Custody

Axess Law Ontario family lawyers can advise you on custody orders and parenting time during the pandemic. Make an online video call appointment by calling toll-free to 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form. You can meet In person with licensed lawyers at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.