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Posts from the ‘Access’ Category

In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

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In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

The parents of a now 13-year-old boy and of three other now-adult children had separated very acrimoniously in 2012.  The court describes the end of the relationship this way:

The parties separated at the end of December, 2012. There was a meeting of the family, not including [the 13-year old son], in early January, 2013. It was hoped that that meeting would be civil, and would set the stage for an orderly transition to the parties living separately. Instead, matters went rapidly downhill thereafter. There were allegations of abuse, violence, theft, destruction of property, assaults, and other allegations of a similar nature. The [father] began videotaping interactions between the parties and their children. The police were called on many occasions. The Children’s Aid Society was involved.

After the ill-fated family meeting, the mother had primary care of the boy, while the father had access only on alternating weekends.  The court heard that under this arrangement, the boy was by all accounts thriving in his school and social environments.  He had a strong attachment to both parents, and was equally happy spending time with either of them.  His stated preference was to spend equal time with them both.

Nonetheless, the father applied for sole custody of the boy.  He claimed that the mother had abused all children for years, and indeed two of them and their paternal grandmother gave testimony to confirm that opinion. (And the court noted that two of those three adult children no longer wanted anything to do with their mother.)   Two of the boy’s siblings gave evidence that the boy would be much better off living with his father, and one of them felt that he would be better off not seeing the mother at all.  One sibling was more conciliatory, but also believed that the boy would do better living with the father.

The father’s opinion of the mother was unequivocal:  He claimed she was a “vindictive, destructive, and evil” person.

The court was left to resolve all this competing evidence in a high-conflict situation, to arrive at a workable resolution.  In doing so, it reiterated the guiding principle in such matters:

It is trite that decisions respecting the custody of or access to a child must be made in accordance with the best interests of the child. The interests of the parents are entirely secondary.

The court then added:

Having heard 16 days of evidence, it is quite clear that each party is, for the most part, concerned with his or her interests first and foremost. The hatred of these parties for each other is palpable. Control is of paramount importance.

Both parties have behaved unreasonably.

Against this background, the court concluded there had been no abuse of the boy, and that – when not embroiled in litigation – were good parents and have the boy’s best interests in mind.  Even though the parents lived quite some distance away, and assuming that the father could commit to getting the boy to school, there would be an order for joint custody, with an equal shared / parallel parenting regime involving at least 40 per cent of the boy’s time being spent with each parent.  (And if the father could not commit to the school-day driving then the current arrangement would remain, but with increased access to him).

The court added that it also wanted to avoid making an order for sole custody to one parent or the other, for fear that the chosen parent would consider themselves the “winner” and use such a determination as an “instrument of oppression.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hart v. Krayem

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Dad Loses Joint Custody, But Gets Access to Give Son Needed “Down-time”

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Dad Loses Joint Custody, But Gets Access to Give Son Needed “Down-time”

In a case called Newman v. Nicholson, the parents of a 14-year old boy had been subject to a court order, granting them each joint custody.  The boy lived in the primary care of his mother since he was 2 years old.

Over that period, the mother had done most of the work around attending to the boy’s needs:  For example, she facilitated his involvement in highly-competitive Triple-A level hockey, as well as high performance athletic programs, hockey camps and high school sports.

In contrast, the father had been comparatively unreliable in meeting the boy’s needs, and sometimes had trouble getting him to school or sports functions on time.  This was compounded by the fact that his driver’s license had been suspended by the Family Responsibility Office for non-payment of child support.   His income had also dropped for unrelated reasons, and the mother claimed he had increased his consumption of alcohol.  She also had concerns that the boy spent too much time playing video games while in the father’s care.

The mother applied for sole custody (but with generous access to the father), on the basis that there had been a significant change since the order had been made.  She pointed out that while she had taken charge of attending to all the boy’s needs, the father had not even honoured his financial obligations as a parent.  More troubling was the fact that the father deliberately ignored her emails and was unresponsive in his communication with her about the boy’s various existing health issues, some of which required monitoring.

The father wanted the joint custody to remain as-is.

After considering the boy’s best interests, the court concluded that the existing situation was indeed ripe for change, primarily due to the nature of communication between the parents, which the court called “abrasive and contemptuous.”  That, coupled with the father’s historic inability to get the boy school and sports on-time, was justification for removing the father’s entitlement to joint custody and reducing his access time.  Although both parents had a strong bond with the boy, and both wanted a role in parenting him, the mother had played the lead role with respect to his schooling, medical needs, activities registration and scheduling.  The court added that at this point in his life, the boy needed consistency and routine.

However, the father was to continue to play a meaningful role in the boy’s life.  In particular, the court found that the boy’s time with his father was “an opportunity for [him] to play video games and allow him some ‘down time’”.

The court accordingly imposed a schedule for reduced access, which would be increased once the father got his license back.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Newman v. Nicholson

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are Decisions Made About Custody in Ontario?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are Decisions Made About Custody in Ontario?

In this law video we talk about how decisions are made about custody of children.

Often, deciding on a parenting arrangement after a marriage is over is not easy. Under the Divorce Act one or both parents may have custody of the children.

If you cannot agree on a parenting arrangement, the divorce law sets out some basic principles that a judge must use when making decisions about children.

• The best interests of the children come first.
• Children should have as much contact as possible with both parents so long as this is in the children’s best interests.
• The past behaviour of a parent cannot be taken into consideration by the court unless that behaviour reflects on the person’s ability to act as a parent.
When deciding on the best interests of the child, the judge will take into account a number of factors including:
• Care arrangements before the separation. (Who looked after the child most of the time? Who took the child to the doctor and dentist? Who arranged extracurricular activities? Who dealt with the child’s school and teachers?)
• The parent-child relationship and bonding.
• Parenting abilities.
• The parents’ mental, physical and emotional health.
• The parents’ and the child’s schedules.
• Support systems (for example, help and involvement from grandparents and other close relatives).
• Sibling issues. Generally, brothers and sisters remain together, but under some circumstances it may be necessary to consider separating them.
• The child’s wishes. (There is no magic age at which a child has the right to decide where he or she is going to live. The court gives more weight to the child’s wishes as the child matures. An older teenager’s wishes will often be decisive.)

At Russell Alexander Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Access Rights in Ontario

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Access Rights in Ontario

In this video we discuss child support in relationship to access rights. A parent cannot cut off contact to a child simply because child support is not being paid

Can Mom’s New Partner Participate in “Family” Counselling if He’s Subject to a Restraining Order?

 

Can Mom’s New Partner Participate in “Family” Counselling if He’s Subject to a Restraining Order?

The father and mother, now separated, had two children together.  The father, who worked as a taxi driver, had full custody of them and received no child support from the mother.

The mother had a new partner, Mr. V., who had apparently been abusive not just toward her and the children, but towards the father as well.  As the Court put it, the litigation record was “replete with allegations of abuse perpetrated by Mr. V.” against the father, mother and their children.

On two occasions, the father refused to let the mother have access to the children, despite a Court Order requiring him to do so.  In the face of those two incidents, the mother went straight to court and successfully obtained another Order which held the father in contempt.   The Order also included a provision requiring the mother, father, and children to participate in counselling, and – quite unusually — added that Mr. V. was to participate in the counselling as well.  Moreover, the father was ordered to fully co-operate with all recommendations made by the counselor, and in connection with Mr. V’s participation as well.

Among other grounds, the father successfully appealed the stipulation as to counselling, in part.

Firstly, the Appeal Court observed that in requiring the mother’s current (and allegedly abusive) new partner at the counselling, the trial judge had likely not considered the children’s best interests.   But even from a practical standpoint, that term of the Order was untenable because Mr. V. was the subject of a restraining order, which had been folded into the Order that granted the mother access to the children.  That restraining order prohibited Mr. V from being within 500 meters of where the mother was exercising her access rights. The Court found it was an actually an error in law to order counselling that involved Mr. V.  in the face of an order that restrains his ability to be anywhere near the children.

The Court therefore set aside the part of the Order relating to Mr. V’s involvement, and merely directed that the father was ordered to “attend and co-operate with the counselling process.”

In other words:  The Court concluded that it was a bad idea to have the mother’s new boyfriend at the fractured family’s counselling sessions – particularly since he was alleged to be abusive to everyone else attending, and since he was subject to a restraining order. Perhaps not a surprising outcome.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Ralhan v. Singh

At Russell Alexander Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Although the case of Simmons v Simmons is actually from Nova Scotia, it’s an interesting and universally-applicable illustration of how Canadian courts can approach an access contest between parents and various other family members – in this case, the grandparents – and how even a parent’s own wishes can be thwarted in appropriate cases.

The father had died of cancer when the boy was only 15 months old. The paternal grandparents had visited the boy often, both prior and immediately after their own son’s death. But when the boy was almost three years old, tension and acrimony developed with the boy’s mother over the frequency of their visits. Although the grandparents were being denied access per se, the mother was not prepared to be particularly cooperative with them until they offered an apology for what she considered was their past ill treatment.

The discord resulted in the grandparents discontinuing their visits to the boy for several months.   Over the objections of the mother, they then succeeded in obtaining a court order granting them interim access to the boy. (And note: Such applications by grandparents are permissible in all Canadian jurisdictions). The application judge had concluded that the boy’s best interests were fostered by nurturing the relationship between him and his grandparents, and ordered that such access should increase gradually over a four-month period, culminating in day-long visits every second weekend.

The mother appealed that order based primarily on the argument that, on the narrow issue of who should access to her son, the prior judge had not given proper deference to her own decision-making authority as his mother.

The Appeal Court rejected that argument, and dismissed the mother’s appeal.

Contrary to the mother’s claim, the judge that made the initial order did not fail to accord proper deference to the mother’s decision-making authority respecting access. He did take it into account; what he didn’t do was let it override consideration of the boy’s best interests.

Although it was a general principle that parents should have autonomy over decision-making relating to their children, this paradigm was not the only acceptable approach to making a determination on the grandparents’ access rights in this case. Rather, the overarching test was merely whether granting such access was in the boy’s best interests.

In this case, judicial deference to the mother’s authority, as a parent, had to be tempered by the court’s willingness to recognize the benefit giving the boy exposure to his extended family, particularly since he had already lost his father.   The previous judge had thoroughly weighed this consideration, along with all the evidence both in favour and against an access award. There was also nothing to suggest that the judge made the order as a way of fostering hope or speculation that the grandparents’ access would resolve the tension between them and the mother.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Simmons v Simmons, 2016 NSCA 86; [2016] N.S.J. No. 494 (C.A.)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

In some Family Law cases, one can speculate about the good intentions behind a parent’s actions, even when they end up being contrary to an agreement with the other parent, or to a court order. Still, it behooves the court to enforce its prior orders and agreements, to maintain the semblance of fairness and respect for the judicial process.

This was the situation in a case called Perna v Foss. The mother and father had married only a month before their child was born, and separated 18 months later.   The father eventually agreed to give sole custody to the mother.

When the boy was around 7 years old, the mother agreed to allow the boy’s grandmother (on the father’s side) to have access to him one day a week. In view of the mother’s acquiescence, the court granted a consent order accordingly.

However, the mother stopped facilitating the access altogether when she formed the opinion that the grandmother was “having conversations with [the boy] regarding serious issues” during those visits. She explained her move to block access in texts and Skype conversations with the grandmother, one of which read as follows:

I will consider giving you ur (sic) time back if u can promise me only good times and no conversations w Jackson about moving or living in Dominican Republic. I want the pressure off of him completely.  I never said I wanted you out of his life Sandra.  I just don’t want him having to answer questions about how he showers or what mommy does.  It’s not fair.  If you agree to this we can start visits again.  …

Evidently the two women were unable to come to an understanding; the mother continued to deny access, which prompted the grandmother to bring a motion for a court order finding her in contempt. The mother ignored the motion, and did not appear in court. (Nor had she taken any steps to vary the initial consent order granting the grandmother access in the first place, which would have been the ordinary course to take if she now took issue with it).

The court considered the circumstances, and agreed that the mother should indeed be held in contempt.

She was clearly aware of the consent order, and could not claim to be confused about its interpretation. She freely admitted to disobeying it on more than one occasion, as her texts and Skype sessions showed. In fact, she had announced both her deliberate intent to block the grandmother’s access, and her reasons for doing so.

The court speculated that the mother perhaps regretted having agreed to giving the grandmother access in the first place, but this did not give her justification or excuse for failing to honour her obligations under the consent order. She did not have the right to unilaterally refuse to comply.

In light of the contempt finding, the court refused to hear any further motions by the mothers – including one she had brought recently for permission to remain in the Dominican Republic with the child – until the contempt was purged.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Perna v Foss, 2015 ONSC 5636 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

 

 

 

 

Father Punches His Own Dad in the Face at Christmas Gathering; Can Mother Deny Him Access to their Child?

Father Punches His Own Dad in the Face at Christmas Gathering; Can Mother Deny Him Access to their Child?

Here’s a good question: Is a mother entitled to unilaterally deprive the father of his access rights to their child, based on an incident – that she did not witness – in which the father punched the child’s grandfather in the face? Does it matter that she heard the news from the father’s recently-estranged ex-girlfriend?

Before you answer, here are the fuller facts:

The mother and father had a child together, and split up a few years later. The father, who had been dating and living with someone new for about a year, enjoyed unsupervised access to the now 6-year old boy, pursuant to a court order.

Things were going well with the arrangement until December of 2015. That’s when the father, the child, and his new girlfriend attended a Christmas family function hosted by father’s parents (i.e. the child’s grandparents).

The court, describing the recount of the incident given by the girlfriend in her court-filed affidavit, picks up the story:

She states that “the first time I witnessed [the father’s] rage was at his parent’s home”, about a week after Christmas. She states that they were about to sit down for breakfast when the [the father] became enraged because his mother did not prepare a vegan breakfast for him. She alleges he called his mother a “dustbag” and said “I hope you die”. He then went outside to have a cigarette. His brother … went out to calm him down and they started yelling at each other. [The girlfriend] went outside and saw the [father] swinging his fists at [his brother]. His father came out and intervened, and the [father] punched his father in the face.

Fast-forward two months. The father had recently broken up with his girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend), who took it upon herself to text the mother, complaining about the father’s behavior. In particular, the ex-girlfriend warned the mother about the incident at the Christmas family gathering that the mother did not attend.

The ex-girlfriend’s version of events was confirmed in an affidavit by the father’s brother; however the grandfather himself denied that the incident took place or that he was punched in the face.

Shortly after receiving the ex-girlfriend’s text the mother, apparently fearing for the child’s safety, decided of her own initiative that the father should no longer have access to the child, and refused to cooperate with his attempts. (She tried to get a court order without giving notice to the father, but it was rejected). In the following weeks, the father sent her three letters, putting her on notice that she was in breach of the court order. She continued to foil his access, until the father applied to the court to have the mother held in contempt.

The court considered all aspects of this rather unique scenario. By her own admission, the mother had disobeyed the court order, and persisted even after the father complained by letter. Her was motive clearly stemmed from concern over the child’s safety. But the key question was whether her disobedience was legally justified, due to the presence of serious risk of harm to the child.

After reviewing the evidence, the competing versions of the incident, and legal test for contempt, the court wrote:

In my view, the Christmas incident reported by [ex-girlfriend] falls short of demonstrating a serious risk of harm to the child. The child was not directly involved in the incident, and was apparently unaffected by it. It is noteworthy that, according to [the ex-girlfriend], this was “the first time” she was exposed to the [the father’s] “rage” even though they had been a couple since the preceding May. This suggests that this incident was an isolated one, and not part of a continuing course of conduct.

There is nothing about the December incident that gave rise to a situation of serious risk to the child that justified the unilateral action of the [the mother] in choosing to defy the access order. It is significant that the incident had occurred two months before she even became aware of it, and throughout that period she was of the view that access was going well.

In short, the mother’s decision was a gross overreaction to the information she received from the ex-girlfriend. The court found her in contempt.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Houben v Maxwell, 2016 ONSC 2846 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Can Putting Your Work Before Your Kids Cost You Access Rights? Yes!

Can Putting Your Work Before Your Kids Cost You Access Rights? Yes!

If your job responsibilities routinely prevent you from exercising your access rights on a regular basis, can a court make it even harder for you to see your kids?

Absolutely.

That’s what happened in an Ontario case called Stimpson v. Stimpson. There, the couple’s 3-year-old daughter had lived with the mother in Ottawa since their separation in 2014. The father’s access time was scheduled for alternating weekends and mid-week periods. However, his work duties with the Canadian military apparently prevented him from exercising his access rights fully, since he had an erratic work schedule and had recently been sent on several short military deployments. Also, except for work-related reasons he was not allowed to travel more than 90 minutes from Ottawa without a special exemption, although this was not a true impediment to exercising access since the mother’s home was only 18 minutes away.

In any case, all of this meant that in a 1.5-year period the father had taken advantage of only 50 percent of the access time allotted for him to see his daughter.

Meanwhile the mother applied to the court to be allowed to move with the daughter to Toronto to be with her new fiancé. The mother had few social ties in Ottawa and was lonely, and due to a lack of available caregivers had to juggle childcare obligations with her work commitments. In contrast, her family and close friends-with-kids all lived in Toronto, and she had an offer for a good, higher-paying job already lined up there.

In assessing the mother’s request, court confirmed that maximum contact with both parents was the theoretical ideal. However, in this case that was to be balanced with other best-interest factors: namely, that the child would benefit greatly from continuing to live with the mother as her primary caregiver, and from the overall improved financial and family situation that the relocation would provide. Since the child also had a very strong bond with the mother, it was in her best interests that the mother-daughter relationship should be fostered. Finally, the timing for a move was also right, since she was just about to enter kindergarten.

Very tellingly, the court also honed in on the fact that the father had missed or cancelled his scheduled access about half the time. This told the court quite clearly that he prioritized his work duties over seeing his daughter.
Over the father’s objections, and even though it meant that his time with the daughter would drop sharply, the court granted the mother’s legitimate request, and allowed her to move to Toronto with the young girl.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stimpson v. Stimpson, [2016] O.J. No. 4283, 2016 ONSC 5066

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Access Rights in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Access Rights in Ontario

In this video we discuss child support in relationship to access rights. A parent cannot cut off contact to a child simply because child support is not being paid.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com