Longtime Ontario family lawyer Russell Alexander said that Ontario courts’ new seven-day rule for international child custody cases is “extremely fast,” helping quickly address cases where one parent has broken the rules.
Under guidelines that went into effect this month, Ontario family law judges will hold an initial meeting within seven days in any case involving allegations that a parent has taken a child to a foreign country despite a custody agreement.
“This is an extraordinarily fast timeline, comparable to a child protection order or other emergency,” said Alexander, who is founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers. “In these cases, it’s necessary because it already is going to take time to get a foreign court involved and start the process of having a child returned.”
Alexander, author of several books on divorce issues including his new book “Zoom Divorce,” now available in paperback, said that the quick turnaround is crucial in cases like this to avoid letting the situation get worse.
In the past, Alexander said slow court responses allowed some parents to violate a custody agreement in order to get their child set up in a new life in another country. In some cases, the process took years, allowing the fleeing spouse to claim that it would disrupt the child’s new life if they were forced to return.
The new rules were set because of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, an international agreement that Canada has joined. They stand in contrast to the typical procedure for a child custody issue, which can take months before an initial hearing is held.
“Different countries have different rules for handling divorce and child custody matters,” Alexander added. “But those that have joined this convention agree that should not be used as a loophole by a spouse with citizenship in another country.”