Family law matters during the COVID19 pandemic
Apr 9, 2020
As part of efforts to help limit the spread of COVID-19, family law matters are only being heard in urgent circumstances. The pandemic can create additional stress and worry for parents and children - especially those going through separation or divorce. Families can use these resources to help address some of their concerns:
- Parenting arrangements during COVID-19 (pdf)
- Updates to court processes
- Kids Help Phone
- Talking with children and youth about COVID-19 - This guide was developed for child care providers, but may also be helpful for parents.
For non-urgent questions call our Get Guidance line during regular business hours: 204-945-2313 (Winnipeg) or 1-844-808-2313 (toll-free). Emails may also be sent to GetGuidance@gov.mb.ca but are being monitored less frequently.
Other important contacts:
- If you are experiencing domestic violence and are in an emergency call 911. If you are in crisis, contact the domestic violence crisis line at 1-877-977-0007.
- Contact Manitoba Justice’s Victim Services at 204-945-6851 or toll free at 1-866-484-2846 if you are:
- a victim of intimate partner violence,
- your child has been a victim of crime,
- you or your family member is a designated victim under The Victims’ Bill of Rights, or
- you need information about the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights or criminal compensation.
- If you require information about a protection order, please contact Manitoba Courts at 204-945-1699 or Victim Services at 204-945-6851, toll free at 1-866-484-2846. You can also check Family Law Manitoba for other agencies that can help with domestic violence and protection orders.
- For questions or concerns about family law services - including changes to service delivery for mediation, recalculation or maintenance enforcement - visit Family Law Manitoba or Manitoba Courts.
To get support to mediate family issues related to COVID-19, such as child access, please call our Get Guidance line at 204-945-2313 (Winnipeg) or 1-844-808-2313 (toll-free) or email GetGuidance@gov.mb.ca with COVID-19 Assistance in the subject line.
The terms custody and access may be used to describe the parenting arrangements for children in court orders or agreements. In some cases, these terms are not used and instead the order or agreement may just set out the times that the child will spend with each parent or may describe one of the parents as the primary caregiver. If a court order does not state who has custody, then according to The Family Maintenance Act, so long as they lived together after the child’s birth, the parents have joint legal custody.
For more information about parenting arrangements after separation or divorce, please visit the Justice Canada site at: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fact-fiches.html.
What is custody?
The legal term custody refers to all the rights and duties related to the care of a child. This includes the right to make all important decisions about the child’s care and upbringing (legal custody), and the right to the actual everyday physical care and control of the child (physical custody).
Changes to the Divorce Act, anticipated to come into effect March 1, 2021, will remove the words custody and access as legal terms in matters involving the Divorce Act. Instead, courts will make parenting orders and each parent will be allocated parenting time and decision making responsibility. This change is intended to focus on relationships with children, such as parenting time and decision-making responsibility, but will not alter how day-to-day decision making around the children will occur. The Divorce Act only applies to parents who were married to each other.
Under The Family Maintenance Act, both parents of a child have equal rights to the custody and control of that child (joint legal custody) if they lived together after the child’s birth and no court order has set out a different arrangement. It does not matter if they are married or unmarried. A written agreement cannot change this custody right. However, if the parents never lived together after the child’s birth, the parent with whom the child lives is deemed to have sole custody and control.
What is access?
Access usually means the right to apply for access to have contact with a child, which can include spending time together, or other kinds of contact, such as regular telephone calls, messaging, video chats, or sending cards or gifts.
Under The Family Maintenance Act, only a child’s parents have the right to apply for a court order of custody or access. Under the current Divorce Act, either spouse or any other person may apply for an order of custody or access. However, if the applicant is not one of the spouses, they must first get permission (leave) from the court.
When the changes to the Divorce Act anticipated to come into effect March 1, 2021, a person other than a parent (typically a grandparent or a step parent) will be permitted to apply for a contact order. The changes will also allow someone who wishes to assume parental responsibility for a child to apply for a parenting order.
If the Divorce Act does not apply to the case, grandparents, other family members, or others with a special connection to a child, who want to assume responsibility for that child’s care, may apply for an order of guardianship or access under The Child and Family Services Act of Manitoba. Please visit the Family Access to Children section of this website for more information.
What is guardianship?
In Manitoba, guardianship is the legal term used when someone other than a parent assumes formal and legal responsibility for the care and control of a child. Sometimes, when parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for their children, a child and family services agency steps in and seeks an order of guardianship. For more information, visit the Child Protection section of this website.
When someone other than an agency wants to apply, this is sometimes called an application for private guardianship; more information, please visit the Family Access to Children section of this website.