Canadian Lawyer

June 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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24 LEGAL REPORT FAMILY LAW Accessing justice Incidents of family violence have increased during the pandemic, and virtual hearings and trials may present a particular risk when a victim still lives with the abuser, as the latter could be present and intimidating the victim while she gives her evidence remotely, Alexander notes. The pandemic has also adversely affected women since they must go to court to obtain alimony and support orders more often and fight custody and access issues, says Goldwater. Women's jobs have also been more precarious. They are more likely to work part-time with less seniority and in businesses such as salons and restaurants closed during the pandemic. And on the technological side, "if you don't have internet access during COVID, you might as well stab yourself in the eyeball with a fork," Goldwater says. "Ninety-nine per cent of our functionality was predicated on having a strong and sturdy and stable internet connection" after court hearings, case confer- ences and client conversations went virtual. This lack of access has posed a challenge to lower-income clients without a home internet network, especially as public libraries and "The silver lining to the pandemic . . . is that it has made lawyers in the justice system much more efficient." Russell Alexander, Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers to be litigated concerned a "nesting arrange- ment," he says, in which the children continue to reside in the marital home and the parents take turns living with the children there while maintaining separate residences for when they're not parenting. In Guerin v. Guerin, which was heard and decided via telephone conference on March 31, 2020, the mother was immunocompro- mised. She charged that the father had been leaving the house — which the entire family had shared since early March — without regard for current COVID-19 protocols. She also accused the father of refusing to answer questions about cleaning and handwashing measures in the marital home. Although that litigation is still ongoing, Ontario's Superior Court of Justice granted the mother exclusive possession of the marital home temporarily. The court restricted the father's contact with his children to electronic means. In another Ontario Superior Court case, Joachim v. Joachim, the parties lived apart and the children's mother's partner was immuno- compromised. The parents disagreed about whether their children should return to school when in-person classes resumed in September. The court concluded that the decision was not simply an educational one but also involved medical and psychological aspects. Therefore, the court ordered that the children attend school and extracurricular activities virtually. When schools and shopping malls are open, Grewal says, "it requires some specific evidence . . . to demonstrate that one party close to the child is considered immunocom- promised," since contracting COVID-19 could potentially be fatal. CANADA'S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STATISTICS, 2019 400,000 number of victims of violent crime reported to police in 2019 26 percentage of those victimized by a family member: a spouse, parent, child, sibling or extended family member 67 percentage of victims of family violence who were women and girls 31 percentage of family violence perpetrated by a current spouse 20 percentage of family violence perpetrated by a parent Source: Statistics Canada

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