British Columbia

B.C. judge grapples with parenting time for nurse who saw COVID-19 patient

The B.C. court decision deals with issues facing families in the COVID-19 era — particularly those on the frontline of the battle against the pandemic.

Provincial court judge said mother was doing her best to eliminate risk of son contracting virus

A B.C. provincial court ruling grapples with the question of child custody for nurses who are exposed to the COVID-19 virus through their work. (Napocska/Shutterstock)

She's a nurse and he runs a demolition company.

Their relationship didn't work, but they both dearly love their eight-year-old son. 

And in worrying about his exposure to COVID-19, the couple sought help from a B.C. provincial court judge this week.

The result is a decision that grapples with issues facing split B.C. families in the era of the pandemic — particularly those whose professions put them on the frontline of the battle against the novel coronavirus.

Judge Patricia Bond admitted she was navigating her way through uncharted territory.

"There is very little case law on the considerations that should apply in assessing whether a parenting time regime should continue in circumstances of those service providers who continue to work with the public during the pandemic," Bond wrote.

"These include everyone from clerks at the grocery store, to medical professionals working in clinics and hospitals, police officers, social workers, fire officials, paramedics, etc."

A series of hurdles

Bond ultimately concluded that the mother — SR — should have four days a week parenting time with her son, known as LG, and should not work during that time.

The judge in the case ultimately found that the mother should get her parenting time, agreeing that she should not work during the four days that she spends with her son. (David Horemans/CBC)

And that if either mother or father or anyone in their households should be "flagged" as being at risk for contracting the virus, they should immediately contact the other to limit LG's exposure.

The decision is the latest in a growing body of rulings dealing with custody and COVID-19. Parents across the country are fighting over fears ex-partners may be placing their children in harm's way.

SR and her former partner — MG — are devoted to their son and haven't needed help from the court to manage their parenting time since they separated in 2014.

But COVID-19 has thrown a series of hurdles in their way. 

SR cancelled a trip to Mexico in mid-March and agreed to let LG stay with his father for a week so he could have a normal spring break.

MG told the court that he has asked his employees to stay at home if they feel sick and has taken steps to limit the spread of the virus in his company.

SR works as a licensed practical nurse at a hospital on a casual basis. She worried about exposing MG's elderly parents to the virus.

Risk is everywhere

According to the ruling, MG was concerned that SR treated a patient who had COVID-19 on March 21 and felt that she should isolate for two weeks before seeing LG in person.

In the meantime, he offered to arrange for his new partner to bring the boy over to SR's apartment building, where she could see LG from the safety of her second-floor deck.

The mother in the case says she is taking every precaution recommended to nurses in order to limit her exposure to COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

SR insisted that she follows every precaution recommended to nurses, wearing hospital-issued scrubs, leaving her shoes and clothing at work, wiping down her bag and showering as soon as she gets home. She also uses bleach to clean door handles.

"As SR points out, she is working in an environment with a known risk, as the medical staff assume that they are constantly at risk of exposure," Bond wrote.

"By contrast, in the community an individual who appears to be well could be spreading the virus to others through touching surfaces or sneezing or coughing at the grocery store, or jogging on the street close to other pedestrians."

'People cheer and shout'

SR told the judge that if it came to a choice between her son and her work, LG would win. But Bond said that shouldn't be a factor.

"There is no question that SR is fulfilling a fundamentally important role as a health-care worker at this critical time," the judge wrote.

"The community expressed the importance of that role every evening at 7 p.m. as people cheer and shout their support."

Bond found that, despite his mother's job, LG wasn't at an elevated risk for suffering the more serious consequences of the virus.

The judge said she found that both parents were doing their best to mitigate their exposure. And she said she also had to consider the benefit to LG of spending time with his mother, who is the primary caregiver.

Bond said that if there were any danger of LG suffering more severe consequences, she would revisit the ruling.

"I should say as well that my decision is in part a result of my confidence that both parties will do the right thing to protect their son as this situation continues to change," the judge wrote.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.