Family lawyer Russell Alexander has seen a 30-per-cent growth in legal matters during COVID
COVID has taken a toll on marriages, produced unique trends in family law disputes and Russell Alexander, founder and senior partner at RIA Collaborative Family Lawyers, predicts vaccination will be the next battleground.
As the pandemic persisted through 2020, each new season brought another novel legal trend, says Alexander. Last spring, as day-to-day habits were quickly transformed, parents were fighting over custody arrangements. But the caselaw was “fairly clear” that judges had no interest in changing the status quo for the sake of COVID.
As summer approached, parents litigated their summer vacation plans. In one example, a dad rented a family cottage for the kids and extended family. But the mother, fearing the size of the bubble and elevated COVID risk, had the court cancel the trip.
Then came the back-to-school cases. Parents fought over whether a child would attend in-person or remotely. The Courts found that unless there’s a health risk, or an immediate family member is immune-compromised, the benefits from in-person schooling outweigh the risks, says Alexander.
Around the holidays, access disputes took on similar forms.
Alexander has already seen parents losing contact with their kids for not taking the pandemic seriously, and he expects this will carry on into the vaccination era.
“I think the next area that we're going to see disputes, moving forward, will be vaccinations. We've seen lots of cases recently where parents call it a ‘scam-demic’ or they are protesting the social-distancing protocols and safety measures implemented by the Government of Ontario,” he says.
There has been no shortage of family law files, as the pandemic has heightened tensions between spouses. In the U.S., the divorce rate had already increased by 34 per cent by October, and the number of spouses married five months or less seeking a divorce during that period had nearly doubled to 20 per cent, compared with 2019, according to National Law Review.
Alexander has seen his practice grow by 30 per cent. They have hired five new associates and added a Toronto location, “to help manage the increasing clients that are coming in.”
“We've seen a jump in our practice, for sure,” he says.
Many businesses and industries, such as airlines, have been wiped out by the pandemic, which puts a strain on relationships, says Alexander. Couples also have “cabin fever” and what would normally be a “bump in the marriage” is now amplified, he says.
The situation is similar to the “greying of divorce,” when older couples retire from their 9-5, begin to spend all day together – seven days a week – and realize they are ill-suited, says Alexander.
But the pandemic’s family law surge is also padded by the shutdown of the courts, he says.
“I think some of the increase in volume we're seeing is a result of the bottleneck from March of 2020. When we first went into a lockdown, all the cases were basically put on hold, and the court effectively shut down. So, we have a bit of a backlog there, which is creating a bump.”