COVID-19 and Family Law-Related Issues (Updated April 7, 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic reaches far and wide. We have put together an update on how this relates to Family Law issues. From court closures to filing documents to the impact on trials are just a few of the impacted areas.

COURT CLOSURES

The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench (Family Division) has cancelled all Court appearances effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020 and continuing until April 16 2020. This includes the Triage Screening List, Triage Conferences, Case Conferences, Child Protection Pre-Trials, all Trials (Child Protection and Family), all motions (including summary judgment motions), JADR’s, in-chambers appointments and Protection Order Set Aside dockets and hearing. Please note that the Master’s List is also cancelled.

Despite the temporary suspension of appearances, if a matter is “emergent” as defined by the Court of Queen’s Bench Rules, judges will be available to address those issues. Please speak to your lawyer if you believe you have an emergent situation which requires immediate judicial intervention.

The Court has indicated that on April 17, 2020 there will be an administrative list wherein all cancelled matters will be addressed and re-scheduled. As the issues surrounding COVID-19 change from day-to-day, the April 17, 2020 date is also subject to change. We will keep you up to date with any further information.

Assuming that on April 17, 2020 the Court re-opens, all matters scheduled after this date are presumed to be proceeding as scheduled.

For more information on the temporary closure of the Court, please visit the Court website:
http://www.manitobacourts.mb.ca/news/covid%E2%80%9019%E2%80%90updates%E2%80%90and%E2%80%90notices/

UPDATE TO COURT CLOSURES (April 7, 2020)

On April 2, 2020, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench updated its Notice regarding COVID-19 Suspension and Restrictive Operations. The general restrictions that began on March 16, 2020 are extended and it is now estimated that regular Court operations will commence May 25, 2020 versus April 17, 2020.

Specific to the Family Division of the Court:

• Appearances that are scheduled for or after May 25, 2020 will presumably proceed as scheduled.

• To alleviate potential delays and backlog, the Court will conduct additional summer sessions over July and August 2020.

• The Court has created Administrative Lists to deal with those matters that have been adjourned since March 16, 2020. All Lists will be conducted via teleconference and the Court will contact the lawyers and/or parties to assign time on these Administrative Lists. It is anticipated that the Judges assigned to preside over these Administrative Lists will issue a more detailed list of the matters to be dealt with including the times of each appearance.

• Specific Administrative Lists will be conducted as follows:

  • Child Protection Intake List – Thursday, April 16, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. and Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. There will be two simultaneous teleconference Lists conducted on each of these days. 
  • Motion List – Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. This List will address cancelled Motions. Although some Motions may be dealt with on this List depending upon the issue, if matter remains unresolved, rescheduling of the hearings will occur. 
  • Triage Conference List – Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. There will be two separate Lists and the appearances will be no different than a than a regular Triage hearing. The parties are expected to be in attendance via teleconference so that the outstanding issues can be discussed and solutions explored. If issues are not resolved at this Triage hearing, a Case Conference will be schedule but not until September 2020 or later.
  • Trial Readiness Case Conference List - Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. The goal is to have each cancelled Trial Readiness Case Conference scheduled before each Judge prior to this List. The judges who have appeared previous on the specific matter are expected to reschedule these appearances. This List will address those that were previously scheduled prior to the restriction in the Court’s operations. Please see below.
  • Cancelled Trials/All other Cancelled Case Conferences and Interjurisdictional Support Orders (“ISO”) – due to the high volume of these types of cancelled appearances, there will be two Lists:
  1. Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. - One List will address cancelled trials and case conferences and one List will ISO issues to the extent possible.
  2. Monday, April 20, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. – This will be the second List to address these types of appearances.

Special note regarding cancelled Trial Readiness Case Conferences. As identified above, the rescheduling of these appearances will be occurring immediately and the Judge who is ‘seized’ of the matter (meaning the judge who has appeared before on these matters) will preside over these appearances. Several Judges are willing to conduct these appearances via videoconferencing. When the Court contacts the lawyer and/or party, they will be asked if they are prepared to appear via videoconference using the Zoom program. If proceeding by Zoom, it is the responsibility of the lawyers and/or the parties to create their own Zoom account. Alternatively, a Trial Readiness Case Conference teleconference may proceed and the Judge’s assistant will be responsible to schedule this appearance.

Due to the further extension of the Court’s restricted operations, further Administrative Lists are scheduled for Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. and Friday, May 22, 2020.

It is expected that Trials that have been scheduled for June 2020 will proceed as scheduled even though the Court has implemented restrictions due to COVID-19. If an adjournment of a trial is desired, the procedure of the Case Flow Management Model remains in effect and either counsel and/or the parties (if unrepresented) are required to make a written request to the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench seeking permission to adjourn the trial. 

Please refer to the Notice of The Honourable Acting Associate Chief Justice Dueck.

It is strongly advised that you contact your lawyer to discuss your matter and these Administrative Lists.

FILING DOCUMENTS

The Court is still accepting certain documents that they deem to be “essential”. Essential documents, for the purposes of family law proceedings, include, but are not limited to, Petitions, Petitions for Divorce, Answers, Financial Statements (Form 70D), Request for Motion or Subsequent Case Conference (Form 70DD), consent Orders, Notice of Motions or Applications to Vary, Affidavits, Notices of Opposition to Variation, Triage Conference Briefs (and other required Triage Conference related documents), and documents relating to an uncontested divorce.

As per Section 66 of The Manitoba Evidence Act, the Court will accept Affidavits that do not meet the formal requirements (including the absence of a signature confirming oath or affirmation) however, the lawyer submitting the document to the court must provide an undertaking that a proper Affidavit will be filed once the Court has re-opened.

Please note that the Court will not grant any Final Orders, including those relating to an uncontested divorce, unless the Affidavit evidence has been properly affirmed or sworn.

For more information on filing documents, please visit the Court website:
http://www.manitobacourts.mb.ca/news/covid-19-updates-and-notices/

TRIAGE SCREENING LIST AND TRIAGE CONFERENCES

While the Triage Screening List and Triage Conferences are currently suspended, pre-requisite completion can be achieved in the interim as this will speed up the scheduling of Triage Conferences once the Court re-opens. Please speak to your lawyer about this.

TRIALS

If you have a trial scheduled for after April 17, 2020, it is expected to proceed as scheduled. You should speak to your lawyer about this issue. Documents such as Trial Readiness Certificates are expected to be filed in accordance with the Queen’s Bench Rules.

If your Trial Readiness Case Conference has been suspended due to the Court action in response to COVID-19, rescheduling of these appearances will be considered “high-priority” by the Court upon its reopening. In the event you need to schedule a Trial Readiness Case Conference, speak to your lawyer about this request.

CHILD SUPPORT AND MANITOBA MAINTENANCE ENFORCEMENT

Mandatory lay-offs and reduction in income will be a reality for many people during this uncertain time. This will affect a parent’s ability to pay child support and may require a variation.

Please note that the Maintenance Enforcement Program has expanded authority and can make determinations including ending enforcement of child support in the case of adult children, administering Agreements to change or terminate maintenance obligations. You can also make a request to suspend enforcement (either short term or long term) for any reason by making a request for an Administrative Suspension of Enforcement however it is likely that you will be subject to specific conditions.

Maintenance Enforcement is still accepting Opt-Out forms:
https://www.gov.mb.ca/justice/courts/mep/pubs/enroll24.pdf

You can contact Maintenance Enforcement via telephone at 204-945-7133 or Toll Free at: 866-479-2717, fax at: 204-945-5449 or email: [email protected]

PARENTING TIME

Given the impact of COVID-19, concessions and changes to parenting time will be inevitable.

ACCESS TO COUNSEL

Many law offices are closed; however, lawyers are still working from home. We are accessible by email and phone. If you have an emergency, please contact us. Our information can be found on our webpage: http://pitblado.com/our-people

Our office is doing everything we can to ensure your issues are prioritized and moving forward as much as possible. In addition to being accessible by phone and email, we are able to facilitate videoconferencing and teleconferencing. Our systems are up and running remotely so we can continue to draft important documents and ensure they are filed.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact your relationship partner or lawyer if you have any questions or if we can be of assistance in guiding you through these new challenges.

 

This article was prepared by:

SANDRA E. KLIMAN
PARTNER
204.956.3509
[email protected]

LES KIRCHNER
PARTNER
204.956.3554
[email protected]

ALEXANDRA AQUILA
LAWYER
204.956.3537
[email protected]

This article represents general information and is not legal advice. Please contact us if you would like legal advice that is tailored to your particular circumstances. We would be happy to help.

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