In a case called Ottewell v. Ottewell, the parents were married about five years when they separated. Since that time, the mother had custody of the two children, with the father’s regular access on an informal schedule that was reached without the court’s direct involvement.
In light of his ongoing frustration with the mother and what he viewed were her attempts to squeeze him out of the children’s lives entirely, the father went to court to have a formal determination on custody and access. He also put forward a Proposed Parenting Plan for the court’s approval.
After praising the father for his clear care and concern for the children, for his straightforward and forthright testimony, and for his rational and thoughtful approach to keeping his children’s best interests uppermost, the court had less kind words for the mother. It declared her to be “consistently evasive, woefully inconsistent and wholly unreliable as a witness”, adding that “[h]er credibility was undermined, not just by her own confusing, contradictory and unsupported direct testimony, but also by her pattern of evasiveness in answering direct questions put to her…”
In assessing the custody and access issue, the court focused on what it concluded were demonstrable attempts by the mother to alienate the children from the father. These included incidents where she:
• Refused to speak with the father directly, made derogatory statements about him to the children, and portrayed him as dangerous.
• Exaggerated his negative attributes, omitted the positive ones, and tacitly approved the children’s critical or negative behaviour or comments toward him.
• Made numerous allegations about the father to the Children’s Aid Society.
• Spoke disparagingly about the father’s new girlfriend, which confused the children about how they should behave since they had fun while with her.
• Raised questionable concerns about matters such as the children’s safety, unilaterally altered the agreed times and dates of the children’s access to their father, and undermined his authority in front of them.
The court illustrated the mother’s overall strategy towards alienation with some concrete incidents. For example:
• At the children’s school – and in front of the children and others – she threw away the lunch prepared by father, and replaced it with a lunch that she had prepared.
• She told the father the children were “unavailable” on a day he wanted to take them to a work-related Christmas party, when in fact the son was part of a float at a Santa Claus parade. (The father testified that he would have attended the parade to spend time with the children if he had been advised of the event).
In the end, the court found that this pattern of alienating and disenfranchising the father “should be viewed as grave”, concluding as follows:
In the case at bar, I find that the mother has chosen a course of conduct that is injurious to the children’s healthy contact with their father. She clearly has no insight into how her conduct is impacting negatively on the children. She has shown no willingness to take responsibility for the conflicts and stress that have dominated this unfortunate situation. … She has used her time and energies to thwart access.
Both the Children’s Law Reform Act and the Divorce Act direct that court only take into account a parent’s past conduct if it is relevant to the person’s ability to act as a parent. I find that the past conduct of the mother, which has continued up to the present, must be taken into account. A parent must be prepared to promote the other parent as an important part of the children’s lives and refrain from denigrating, minimizing, or alienating that other parent. This, [the mother] has been unwilling or unable to do. I have no confidence that this pattern of conduct will cease.
The court ordered that the father was to have primary care of the children, and confirmed that his Proposed Parenting Plan had the best chance of achieving stability and predictability for the children, while still maximizing the time spent with each parent.
For the full text of the decision, see: