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)