Father’s Threat to Tell Child “Everything” About Custody Conflict Attracts Court’s Reproach
In a recent blog I point to what is really a recurring theme in past years: The courts’ willingness to admonish litigants for an assortment of misbehaviour, including lack of cooperation, lack of full disclosure, and – very commonly – a lack of focus on what’s important in a family setting: The best interest of the children.
This latter point was the court’s theme in Delisser v. Tefferi, where the father had made a request to expand his access to the 9-year old son “J.”, who was currently living with the mother under a sole custody arrangement.
The court heard the history of litigation between these now-separated parents, which featured the father having what the court called a “toxic” attitude toward the mother. This included an incident where, rather than agree to pick up the boy from where he was playing basketball nearby, the father called the police, claiming that the mother had breached the strict letter of a court order by not having her at her home for pickup at the start of the father’s access time.
In contrast, the court noted the mother had shown considerable flexibility toward the father, including accommodating him when he needed to change plans.
But more troubling was what the court concluded was the father’s overall level of hostility toward the mother. The court recounted another incident:
On yet another occasion mother asked father not to talk to the child about what was going on in court or in the proceedings between them. Father responded by saying to the mother: “You’re a piece of shit and J. will know everything you said”.
This kind of response by father demonstrates such poor judgment, that the court is almost at a loss for words to explain to father why this is so. But since father will hopefully be reading these reasons, I will attempt that explanation.
The court explained the fuller basis for its concerns:
Disputes by parents which involve children, and which take the parents into the courtroom, are adult matters. They are not matters for children. It is a fundamental premise that parents must make all necessary efforts to shield their children from these disputes.
Children who are exposed to parental conflict risk becoming emotionally harmed by that conflict. This risk of harm is so patently obvious that it has been recognized repeatedly by courts for many years. …
Furthermore, a parent who believes that a child, at the age of only 9 years, is capable of understanding the basis for parental conflict, has no real appreciation for the ages and stages of child development.
Additionally, when a parent sets out to tell his child “everything” the other parent said, he has no appreciation of the damage he is creating, either to his own relationship with that child, or the relationship between the other parent and the child.
The fact that the father in this case was prepared to acknowledge the foregoing statement, and to not apologize for it, or to not appreciate why it was so clearly the wrong thing to do, demonstrates not only very poor judgment, but also a complete lack of insight.
In court, during the course of testimony, the father called the mother a “crazy controlling person”.
A statement like this is, unfortunately, entirely consistent with the anger and poor judgment the father displayed when he insisted that the mother was a “piece of shit” and that he was going to tell the child “everything you said”.
If the father is prepared to make statements like this in a courtroom, in front of a judge, the court can only shudder at what the father might be saying to the mother, or about her, away from the court’s scrutiny.
The father’s anger and hostility toward the mother is palpable. The court’s concern is the extent to which this anger and hostility is impacting the child, and the extent to which that may have actually resulted in emotional harm to J.
The court was left to conclude that the father had “unremitting anger and vitriol” toward the mother, and a lack of insight as to how it might affect the child. However, the father clearly loved the child as well. This left the court to balance the competing tension between preserving the father-child relationship, but still expressing its abhorrence with the father’s behavior.
In the end, the court somewhat-reluctantly agreed that there had been sufficient “material change” since the original order was made seven years earlier, which warranted expanding the father’s access to the boy.
But after rendering the decision on the legal issue, the court added:
It is absolutely imperative that the father read these reasons with an open mind. It is critical that he understand how his current behavior risks doing serious emotional damage to his son who, I have no doubt, he loves.
The father must develop an understanding that regardless of his negative feelings toward the mother, maturity and being child-focused necessitates that he puts those feelings on the back-burner when it comes to J.. and the manner in which he involves himself in J..’s life.
The father needs to understand that J.. is entitled to two loving parents, both of whom are required to nurture and sustain J..’s relationship with the other parent – in other words, doing the opposite of what he has been doing so far, namely, denigrating the mother and exposing J.. to his own hostility toward the mother.
The father also must understand that unless he assimilates this information and changes his behavior, the risk of harm to J.. may become so great that the court could ultimately be left with no choice but to suspend or even terminate his access entirely.
If this were to occur, the ultimate loser would be J.., the person with whom the court is necessarily most concerned — and the person about whom father should be most concerned.
I encourage the mother to continue to demonstrate her flexibility toward the father where it is appropriate to do so in J..’s best interests.
I have no doubt the mother will continue to act as she has done in the past.
For the father, however, the court strongly urges a greater generosity of spirit toward the mother, not just for its own sake but, more importantly, for the sake of the healthy development of his son.
There are wise words indeed, for any parent going through the family litigation process.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Delisser v. Tefferi
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