The parents of a 5-year old boy had separated in 2015, and had a court-approved agreement as to joint custody and shared parenting. The mother now wanted to relocate with her son from Cochrane, Ontario to Thunder Bay where she had multiple job offers waiting. She had recently quit her job as a prison transport officer in Cochrane, which did not allow her to properly fulfill her childcare responsibilities. As the court explained:
…. [H]er schedule was unpredictable; sometimes working out of town, sometimes working overtime, sometimes both, and never knowing until the last minute. This would have impaired her ability to care for her son – not knowing in advance whether she would be called in to work in the morning before he went to school, or whether she would be home in time to pick him up again – but her employer temporarily accommodated her with a schedule that avoided unpredictable deployment. Eventually, however, her employer withdrew this accommodation. After exhausting her vacation time and sick leave, the mother resigned her position. Prior to her resignation, her employer invited her to apply for another position in Cochrane with a more parenting-friendly schedule. She was successful, but the employer subsequently had to revoke the offer.
The mother said the move to Thunder Bay was necessary to remain financially viable and provide for her son, and that as the son’s primary caregiver, her decisions about where to live and work out to be given considerable weight.
The father objected to the mother’s plan. For one thing, it would strip him of the chance to influence his son. For another, he claimed the mother’s alleged need to move was merely a pretext to be with her new romantic partner, who also lived in Thunder Bay. He also questioned her lack of ability to find new work in Cochrane, and felt that – since she had quit her job – her current state of financial hardship was self-imposed.
The mother’s bid to move had been rejected earlier by a motion judge, who discounted the allegation that the ostensible need for the move was a pretext. However, the judge did conclude that both parents’ views had equal weight, and that the resolution called for a simple balancing of pros and cons between Cochrane and Thunder Bay, from the perspective of how the boy might benefit. In the end, the motion judge concluded that the mother should be able to find suitable work in Cochrane if she tried.
The Appeal Court saw things differently, and granted the mother’s appeal.
First of all, the motion judge had erred in not characterizing the mother as the primary caregiver, and in not giving her particular reasons for moving “serious consideration.” Also, the judge was wrong in deciding that the mother’s financial circumstances were not self-imposed; they were brought on by the employer’s withdrawal of prior accommodation of her childcare responsibilities. Nor was there any basis for the judge to conclude that the mother could likely find work in Cochrane – in fact the evidence showed otherwise.
The Appeal Court explained:
There is, in our view, a valid and compelling parenting-based reason for the move: it is necessary to enable the primary caregiver to remain financially viable while providing care for the child. The mother has done all she can be expected to do to secure employment in Cochrane. It has not worked out, and there is no good reason for her and her son to live in poverty when she has secured employment in Thunder Bay that will allow her both to parent her son and to provide economically for him.
The court also said it was “encouraged” in this regard by the fact that the mother had offered to provide air travel to Cochrane for the child, which was one of her employment benefits at one of the Thunder Bay jobs. She also offered to accommodate the father’s work schedule as a forest firefighter when he was deployed across Canada.
The court granted the mother’s appeal, allowing her to move with the child to Thunder Bay, and ordered a new access regime, with the parents working out an acceptable access schedule between them.
For the full text of the decision, see:
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