The divorced father, who refused to take back his son to school because of fears about COVID-19, has lost a legal battle with the child’s mother. This was after an Ontario judge stated that going back to class was best for the child. The case, which was published in late August after a crucial legal motion, is the first of its kind in Ontario during the pandemic.
According to legal experts, it gives guidance to parents with comparable disputes. The two divorced in 2017. The mother argued that social isolation had affected the boy, and it was in his best interest to return to in-person classes.
On the other hand, the father accepted that isolation had been challenging for his son. However, he argued that the boy knew that staying home would help keep him and others safe. Initially, the two tried to settle the dispute themselves. The mother decided to file an urgent legal motion after they failed to find a resolution by mid-August. Melanie O’Neill, the mother’s lawyer, said that the mother had no option if she wanted her child to go back to school with his classmates.
Justice Andrea Himel, who oversaw the case virtually, noted that the father, who had since remarried, had a flexible work schedule and another adult in the house, while the mother had none.
The judge established that the father’s idea to homeschool his son did not address the way his mother could follow through on the same plan. She added that his plan didn’t offer a viable solution as the father understood that his son struggled with social isolation during COVID-19. She wrote that the father’s plan did not address the effect of seeing his peers together at school in their cohort while he continues to study alone. O’Neill said the mother is also fearful of COVID, but believed the benefits that school offers the nine-year-old boy outweigh the potential risks. The judge considered the direction from the Ontario government and medical officials.
Himel also considered that none of the two parents had any underlying conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19. The judge stated that it was in the child’s best interest to resume classes starting in September. She also agreed that the court has seen several similar urgent motions since mid-August and wrote that this case was the first of its kind in Ontario. Divorce attorney Russell Alexander stated that the case was essential as it gives divorced parents an idea of what to expect in future disputes. There have been at least two similar cases in Quebec.
Alexander said, from now onwards, medical issues might be “the crux” of the way judges settle these sorts of disagreements.
He added that what would decide if or not the child would go back to school was if the child comes back with COVID and a parent or family member has asthma or an underlying condition. Alexander added that back-to-school is currently one of the busiest times of the year for family lawyers as COVID-19 has made those problems worse. The judge acknowledged that it can be challenging to choose whether or not a child should return to school. She asked parents in the same conditions to look for mediation and expressed worries that children’s education could become a wedge issue between divorced parents.