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Posts from the ‘Access’ Category

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – The Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – The Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law

The moment that the parents of a child separate, everyone’s life circumstances change immediately: there are usually new living arrangements and a custody and access schedule put in place.

But as time passes, there may be other developments as well; for example the parents may embark on new relationships with new partners, or may change jobs.

The potential impact on any court-ordered support, custody or specific access arrangement, and the effect on each parent’s rights must be assessed and weighed.

In cases where one parent’s new relationships or new jobs require a move to another city or province, the concern is even greater. This is because such scenarios give rise the a legal issue of whether the circumstances and preferences of the parents should be allowed to dictate the child’s living circumstances, whether such moves should be allowed and by whom, and — if so — what happens to the custody and access arrangements that are in place.

In family law, this is known as a “mobility” issue.

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.

You Win Some, You Lose Some: Mother Still Ordered to Pay $400,000 in Legal Costs to Father

Unhappy Depressed Woman

You Win Some, You Lose Some: Mother Still Ordered to Pay $400,000 in Legal Costs to Father

This week’s case is not exceptional on its facts, yet it conveniently illustrates a few important ideas:

1) That Family Law litigation can have many ups and downs in terms of who is “victorious” at any given time;

2) That it’s easy to run up enormous costs in the course of trying to come out ahead; and

3) That courts are mindful of how that back-and-forth of litigation can detrimentally affect the children of the marriage.

The mother and father had three children together, aged 14, 13 and 12. Once the parents separated, they agreed that the children would live with the mother, with access to the father on a specified schedule.

However, a dispute arose as to whether the mother was complying with their deal; this led to the father bringing several motions for contempt. Next, there had to be a separate trial, lasting 19 days, to deal with the unwinding of the parties’ financial affairs; A custody-and-access hearing followed soon after, lasting another 22 days. A later review of those arrangements took a 23-day trial-like hearing that took 10 months to complete.

At this point, the father’s legal costs for these proceedings totaled about $400,000; given that he had been successful in terms of the outcome of the various proceedings, the trial judge made an order making the mother liable to the father for that full amount.

The mother then brought an appeal, not only of that costs award but also of the various unfavourable substantive rulings (including one that adjudged that her children had suffered “emotional abuse” at her hands in the preceding 2.5 years. This involved a finding that the mother fostered the children’s distorted reality of their father, based on her own fear and dislike of him).

The Appeal Court began its judgment this way:

Before dealing with the issues raised on the appeal, it is worth recalling for mother and father the bigger picture. The trial judge devoted 45 hearing days to their custody and access dispute. The 2013 Order reversed the custody of the children. More than two years then elapsed before the parties were ready to argue the appeal. During that time, the children have lived with their father. They are now 14, 13 and 12 years old, and they have lived the last seven years of their lives in the shadow of their parents’ litigation. The children are entitled to a stable childhood, not one marked by uncertainties over their living arrangements and contact with their parents resulting from the bitter dispute between mother and father.

The appeal record filed by the parties is voluminous. In the months prior to the hearing, the parties generated a blizzard of new paper with their competing motions for fresh evidence…

In reviewing the trial judge’s reasons, the Appeal Court found no fault with them overall: for example the trial judge’s factual finding that this was “an extreme case”, and that the children were suffering emotional abuse by the mother, was supported by the evidence. Still, for various complex reasons the Appeal Court did find that a review of the access arrangements was merited at this point (and suggested that the review should take no more than a few days – rather than the 20-plus days such a review had taken in the past). The mother’s access to the children was temporarily increased in the meantime.

This meant that in the appeal portion of the proceedings the mother had won some of her arguments; but the father had come out on top in others. In other words, success was divided; this played into the question of whether either of them should pay the legal costs of the other. Specifically, the mother asked the court to award her the full $207,886 she spent bringing the appeal, while the father asked for his costs totaling $124,440. In ruling on the costs issue, the Appeal Court wrote:

The parties enjoyed mixed success on the appeal and, as a consequence, mixed success in respect of the proceedings below. The fairest disposition of the costs of this matter is that the parties bear their own costs of the appeal, and I would reduce the costs payable by the mother to the father under the Costs Order for the proceedings below from $400,000 to $200,000, inclusive of fees, disbursements and taxes.

So even with a partial victory on the appeal, the mother was still on the hook to the father for more than $400,000. Even on a generous interpretation, it’s hard to call that a “win”.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Fiorito v. Wiggins, 2015 ONCA 729

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

Should Mother’s Prolonged Breastfeeding Affect Father’s Access to Child?

breastfeeding

Should Mother’s Prolonged Breastfeeding Affect Father’s Access to Child?

In the context of a straightforward custody and access dispute, the father went to court complaining about the level of access he had to his 2.5-year-old daughter. The court described a rather unique conundrum:

Despite the enormous commitment to this child by [the father], his contact has been restricted by the [mother’s] breastfeeding. He has shown patience with [the mother’s] desire to breastfeed the child, patience that has restricted his time with [the child]. Now, due to the fact that the child appears to be thriving, [the mother] argues that there is no need to alter the status quo in a radical way. While status quo is important, the result for a baby would be to deny the father an equal opportunity to parent a child if he acquiesces to the mother’s request to breastfeed.

The court also explained that the parents’ dispute stemmed from the mother’s stance that the father’s legal rights should be trumped by her view of what was in their toddler’s best interests:

It is clear in [the mother’s] evidence that she has not accepted the provision in [the relevant legislation] that both the mother and the father are equally entitled to custody of a child. In an e-mail she sent to [the father] on September 9, 2006, she states the following:

As time goes on there will be more opportunity for you to spend time with [the child]. But a baby belongs with its mother, and if you had an understanding of the needs of a fully breast-fed baby and truly had [the child’s] interests at heart, you would not be bringing this subject up again.

The court then scrutinized the mother’s rationale:

[The mother] has been unwilling to give a timetable as to when the breastfeeding will end. She believed strongly, through medical advice, in the merits to [the child] of breastfeeding; however, the breastfeeding has a secondary impact upon [the father] in that it is used as an excuse to restrict his access. [The child] is now more than twenty-nine months of age and is still being breastfed. [The child] continues this practice not because of literature that suggests that it is important to breastfeed a child after the age of two, but rather because there is no literature suggesting that it is not in the interests of the child to continue this practice.

Faced with these competing interests, the court took a practical approach – it ordered the mother to pump:

The medical evidence that [the mother] presented supports the practice of breastfeeding until a child has reached his/her second birthday. [The father] respected her views, but now the time has come for [the mother] to have greater consideration for the relationship between [the child] and [the father]. If she used a breast pump and provided the milk to [the father], he would be willing to give it to Kai.

The court added that it hoped the mother would heed her own mother’s (i.e. the child’s grandmother’s) advice, to the effect that the child’s best interests were fostered through contact with both parents, and that the prolonged breastfeeding was interfering with that.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cavannah v. Johne, 2008 CanLII 65587 (ON SC)

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