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Posts from the ‘Children’ Category

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

Can a Kid’s Foster Parent Participate in Child Protection Proceedings?

Can a Kid’s Foster Parent Participate in Child Protection Proceedings?

The Ontario Court of Appeal has considered an interesting question relating to child protection proceedings: Whether a child’s foster parent is entitled to be granted status by the court, so that he or she can participate in the case.

In A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell the child was made a ward of children’s aid organization named Valoris pour enfants et adultes de Prescott-Russell (the “Society”) when he was two months old. At seven months of age, he was placed with a “foster-to-adopt” mother (the “F-A Mother”), who was assessed as a potential adoptee and with whom the child was placed with the ultimate goal of adoption.

Meanwhile, the Society filed an application asking that the child be made a Crown ward with the biological parents being stripped of their access rights.   The Crown supported the F-A Mother becoming the child’s adoptive parent. (Although the biological parents were given the chance to participate in a trial concerning wardship, they did not do so).

However, in 2016 an aunt and her partner expressed an intention to adopt the child, and the Society decided to support that plan instead. The aunt asked the court to be allowed to be added as parties, and to be granted a temporary order to care for the child.

The question arose as to whether the F-A Mother could be added as a party to those proceedings. A motion judge held that she could; the Divisional Court later overturned that decision. The matter was sent to be heard by a third court – the Ontario Court of Appeal – where the outcome was reversed again.

First of all, the Court confirmed that procedurally, the provincial Child and Family Services Act allows for non-parties, including foster parents, to be added to a child protection proceeding in the right circumstances. The legislatively-prescribed considerations which would favour not granting her such status, such as any procedural delay that might be added, were not of concern here.

Next, in allowing the F-A Mother’s participation, the Court explained that she was in the best position to inform the court on a Crown wardship hearing as to what the child’s needs and best interests involved. It was those best interests of the child, not the rights of the family or the foster parents, that is determinative. The F-A Mother also had a legal interest in the proceeding, especially since the Society had changed its mind about supporting her adoption bid in favour of backing up the child’s aunt. If the F-A Mother was not involved in the proceedings, her chance to adopt the child might be foreclosed.

Ultimately, the Appeal Court found that the Divisional Court in our view erred in interfering in the motion judge’s reasonable exercise of discretion, and it allowed the appeal, and granted the F-A mother status as a party to the child protection proceedings about the child.

For the full text of the decision, see:

A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell, 2017 ONCA 601 (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

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More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

I reported recently that the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 (CYFSA) was given Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Although it is not yet officially in force, once proclaimed it will make numerous changes to existing child-focused legislation in Ontario.

Most notably, the CYFSA repeals and replaces the longstanding Child and Family Services Act, and amends 36 other pieces of family- and child-related legislation.  Although the upcoming amendments are numerous and broad-ranging, one of their overriding goals is to focus on government-provided child and youth services, and to put children at the centre of decision-making.   They also aim to increase accountability, responsivity, and accessibility in relation to services and service providers.

Specifically, the new legislation sets out that the purpose of the CYFSA is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. It recognizes that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that:

  • Respects regional differences wherever possible, and takes into account physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

Next, the CYFSA also expressly recognizes that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible. It also gives special recognition to the needs and traditions of Indian and native children and families.

Other key changes include:

  • Increasing the age of protection to include 16- and 17-year-olds. Children of this age may be found to be in need of protection; certain added circumstances apply to this age-group in making that determination.  However, 16- and 17-year-olds may not be brought to a place of safety without their consent.
  • Authorizing children’s aid societies to enter into agreements with 16- and 17-year-olds in need of protection, and to bring applications to court.
  • Strengthening the focus on early intervention, helping prevent children and families from reaching crisis situations at home.
  • Making government-provided services more culturally-appropriate for all children and youth in the child welfare system. This includes ensuring indigenous and Black children and youth receive optimum support.
  • In connection with adoption, changing the matters that must be considered in determining the best interests of the child, in keeping with the nature of the changes that are implemented in other parts of the CYFSA. It also adds a new two-stage process for adoptions from outside Canada.

Finally, the CYFSA also sets out extensive rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by government and service providers, and sets out new rules for obtaining consent and access to personal records, which are driven by privacy considerations.

These changes build upon feedback received by the government through the 2015 review of the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA). Note that the former Child and Family Services Act remains in-force until the new CYFSA is proclaimed in force.

For the full text of the yet-to-be-enacted legislation, see:

Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1

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

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Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

The recent decision in a case called Coates v. Watson represents a landmark of constitutional law, with the court finding that section 31 of the Ontario Family Law Act discriminates against the adult disabled children of unmarried parents and is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case involved an unmarried Ontario mother who was responsible for caring for her adult disabled son named Joshua. The biological father had paid some child support, but was looking to have the support payments terminated now that Joshua was an adult.

Joshua suffered from DiGeorge syndrome, which left him with both physical and mental health issues. These in turn prevented him from attending school full-time.

The legal issue arose because section 31 of the provincial Family Law Act (“FLA”) states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, but only if the child is a minor or is in school full-time. The meant that in cases where the disabled child cannot attend school, section 31 actually operates to prevent him or her from falling within the definition of “child” and thus qualifying for child support. When applied to Joshua’s case, the law effectively eliminated the biological father’s obligation to assist in supporting his son.

In contrast, the federal Divorce Act contains no such qualification, and imposes a support obligation on the parents of disabled adult children, regardless of whether the child attends school.

In noting this discrepancy between the federal and provincial legislation, the court ultimately concluded that section 31 of the FLA was unconstitutional, because it discriminates against adult disabled children of unmarried parents on various grounds including parental marital status, and disability. That discrimination is contrary to s. 15 of the Charter, which enshrines the principle that every individual is “equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

If the ruling in Coates v. Watson stands (and is not overturned on appeal), then there is speculation that the FLA might have to be amended by expanding the definition of “child”, or by incorporating the definition found in the federal Divorce Act.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Coates v. Watson, 2017 ONCJ 454 (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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?

In this law video we discuss the child support guidelines.

In 1997, the federal government brought in a set of new rules and tables for calculating the amount of support a parent who does not have custody of his or her child must pay to the parent who has custody.

These rules and tables were later adopted by the Ontario government and are set out in the Child Support Guidelines.

A link to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is provided in the More Information, Courts and Statutes section of our web site Russellalexander.com.

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

“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

In what is perhaps a controversial move, the Ontario government has recently passed legislation to allow children to be removed from their parents who opposed the child’s expression of “gender identity” or “gender expression”.

The Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act of 2017 received Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Once passed, it will change or repeal/replace existing legislation and implement new requirements directing service providers and other entities to support a child’s choice of gender identity or gender expression.

These amended provisions are aimed primarily at courts, social workers, and adoption services. It mandates that when providing services or considering the best interests and welfare of a child, these entities must consider “race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

It also prevents parents from challenging a child’s same-sex orientation, or with identification not with the gender that he or she was born, but rather the opposite one.

This directive gives rise to a corollary assessment as well: Whether a child should be removed from a home where the parents oppose a child’s declaration of his or her homosexuality or choice of “gender”. The principle behind this part of the legislation is that a parent who refuses to recognize a child’s preference in this regard is actually perpetrating abuse; the child’s removal from the home environment and into child protection facilities would prevent further abuse from occurring.

The new law is not without its controversy. Objectors claim that it represents an unwarranted incursion into the rights of parents, particularly those relating to religion, and embodies an “anti-parent” agenda.

What are your thoughts on these new changes?

For the full text of the new legislation, see:

Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 14.

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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this legal video, we discuss how enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement. To do this, the FRO needs as much up-to-date information about the paying parent as possible. This includes his or her full name, address, social insurance number, place of employment or business, income, and any property he or she owns. The information about the paying parent goes on a Support Deduction Information Form which is available at the court. This form is given to the FRO along with the support order or agreement. It is important to update this form whenever the information changes.

The FRO uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

• get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support

• have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)

• register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes

• garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support

• garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or

• make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

• suspending their driver’s licences

• reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or

• canceling their passports.

Once the order or agreement is filed with the FRO, then it is the FRO, not the other parent, that is responsible for any actions taken to enforce it.
Sometimes parents receiving support withdraw from the FRO because it is easier to receive payments directly from the other parent. But if problems arise later, and they want to re-file with the FRO, they might have to pay a fee to do this.

Parents who have an obligation to pay support should also know that the FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says they have to pay. If they think that a change in their financial situation justifies a reduction in the amount of support they should pay, they must get a new agreement or go to court to get the support order changed.

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

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

 

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

The mother of two children had died in 2013.  About a year later when the father was no longer able to care for them, he handed the children over to his step-parents (who are nonetheless the children’s paternal grandparents by law).

However the maternal grandparents, who lived in British Columbia, also expressed an interest in caring for the children.   In fact, the maternal grandmother moved temporarily to Ontario in order to maintain as close a relationship with the children as possible, and cared for them on a regular basis, in keeping with several temporary court orders that had been made.

Eventually, the two sets of grandparents ended up in a custody battle for the children.  After a three-day hearing, the court granted custody to the maternal grandparents, and gave the paternal grandparents holiday and extended summer access.

The paternal grandparents decided to appeal that Order.   But since there was only a short period of time between when the Order was released and when the children were to be flown to B.C. to join the maternal grandparents, they asked the court for a stay of proceedings (meaning a suspension of the court Order), until they could launch an appeal and have it heard.

The court considered that application, and pointed out that there was a well-established legal test for granting a stay.  Among other things it involved considering whether the children would suffer irreparable harm if the stay was not granted;  on the flip-side involved considering whether granting or denying the stay would foster the children’s best interests.

Looking at those specific aspects of the test, the court observed that to leave the children in the care of the paternal grandparents would be less disruptive than moving them to B.C. pending the appeal hearing.  The court put it this way:

If a stay is not ordered the children will relocate to British Columbia within days. In the event the [paternal grandparents] are then successful in their appeal, the children would be relocated once again to Ontario. No one has suggested that this would be in their best interests. Indeed I would think this might be potentially quite harmful to them.

In reaching this conclusion, the court considered several other factors, including the stable home life the children were currently enjoying with the paternal grandparents, the close and loving relationship they had with them, and the significant turmoil that the children had already had in their young lives.  The court also noted that this was not a situation where they had been removed from the parental grandparents’ care because they were unable to take care of them.

Ultimately the court said:

There is little harm that could come to the children from remaining in the care of the [paternal grandparents] pending completion of the appeal.

However, the court cautioned that the appeal was to be heard expeditiously, and both sets of grandparents were to share the chare of the children until the appeal was fully resolved.

For the full text of the decision, see:

MacLeod v Rae

 

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 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

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support in Ontario – Introduction to Child Custody


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support in Ontario – Introduction to Child Custody

In Ontario, like other jurisdictions, both parents have a responsibility to financially support their children. For the spouse without custody, the amount of child support that must be paid is based on income and the number of children. In this short video clip we talk about custody and answer questions many people have about child support.

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