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Another Classic Family Judgment by Justice Quinn

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Another Classic Family Judgment by Justice Quinn

We have written before about the unique and often-entertaining Family Law judgments of Justice J.W. Quinn, who hears cases in St. Catherines, Ontario. Although those judgments are not that frequent, when they do come down the judicial-ruling “pipes”, they are certainly worth the wait.

The latest, a decision called Szakacs v. Clark, is no exception. It involved a bitter custody dispute fought with great vitriol by two self-represented parents. Justice Quinn begins his ruling this way:

For best courtroom adaptation of a work of fiction, the award goes to the [mother], who shamelessly feigned what she thought was necessary to convince the court to circumscribe access by the re-spondent to their almost-six-year-old daughter.

One could sit in Family Court for many years and not encounter such a callously conniving and mendaciously manipulative litigant. She effortlessly put the “rage” in “outrageous,” …

At several points throughout the trial, Ms. [mother] emphasized that she was a Christian who practiced Christian values. There must be some key pages missing from her copy of the Bible.

Justice Quinn then recounted the background facts relating to the mother, who had several short relationships and what the judge called a “lacklustre employment history” culminating in her current state of unemployment which persisted despite the child’s full-day attendance in kindergarten. He described that she met the child’s father online, and became pregnant at their first offline meeting. Among the many unflattering assessments he calls her “argumentative, flippant, acerbic, and sarcastic”, and then wonders aloud: “If she is like this in court, what must she be like outside the courtroom?”

The father, in contrast, appeared to Justice Quinn to be a soft-spoken, “impressive witness” with a stable family background who displayed signs of parental maturity.

But despite what may be some early editorializing in his judgment, Justice Quinn did eventually turn to a more substantive, and legally-based assessment of the overall merits of the case. For example, in ordering that joint custody would be in the child’s best interests, Justice Quinn reflected on whether – despite early indications to the contrary – the parents were likely to co-operate with each other. He wrote:

It cannot be said that the parties lack the ability to co-operate, because co-operation has hardly been tried. [The mother] to use a vernacularism, has called the shots from the beginning and [the father] has complied. [The mother] should not be rewarded for her arrogant and one-sided treatment of [the father]. Once [he] is given a voice (as I intend to do) an acceptable level of co-operation is more than feasible. Indeed, I think that [the father] will be an effective stabilizing force in what is now a non-benevolent dictatorship.

Of some importance is the fact that a joint custody order will prevent the efforts of [the mother] to limit and marginalize [the father’s] relationship with the child. [The father] has much to offer as a parent. …

Fortunately, [the father] has a bond with his daughter (despite the efforts of [the mother]) and it will grow stronger. She enjoys being with him and benefits from that relationship. Although [the mother] has shamefully manipulated the access regime to this point, no permanent harm to the father-daughter relationship has resulted. Had this litigation not occurred for a few more years (which seems to have been the agenda of [the mother]), I expect that there would be permanent harm and her goal achieved: fatherless parenting.

It’s another interesting judgment by Justice Quinn, written in his trademark unconventional style.

What are your thoughts about these decisions? Do you think this style of judgment-writing has a place in the Canadian family law system?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Szakacs v. Clarke, 2014 ONSC 7487

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.