Court Sends “Very Strong Signal” to Parents: “Don’t Engage in Hard-Ball Tactics”
The court began its judgment with the words:
The facts of this case are simple and yet outrageous.
After separating, the parents of a 9-year-old girl agreed to joint custody, with primary residence to the mother and access to the father. The girl was actively involved in hockey, and had two weekend tournaments coming up.
By coincidence, the first fell on the mother’s weekend; the second fell on the father’s. However, the father unilaterally decided that he wanted to take their daughter to the first tournament. He sent an email to this effect, and even has his lawyer send a letter to the mother’s lawyer, essentially presenting his decision as a “done deal” – i.e. essentially a demand.
This necessitated a trip to court, and while the parents ultimately agreed that the mother would take the child to the first tournament as scheduled (with the court finding no evidence to justify it should ever have been in doubt), the mother asked for police help in enforcing the consent order.
Specifically, she asked the court to add what is known a “police enforcement clause” to the order. The mother was worried that after his regular Thursday night access the father would not return the child in time to leave for the tournament the next day; this would give him a chance to take her instead and achieve his objective indirectly. The police enforcement clause would allow the police to step in and locate, apprehend and return the child from the father’s care, if necessary.
The father objected to adding the clause, saying that there was no need since he could be trusted to respect the consent order.
The court began by admonishing the father – and his lawyer – for making what he called a “request” but which was really a heavy-handed demand. It created needless anxiety for the child, who should be allowed to enjoy her hockey tournaments without worrying about her parents’ conflict. It also acknowledged that the hockey tournament needed to be stripped of uncertainty. However, the court added:
But I don’t agree that a police enforcement clause is the way to go.
- If our goal is to protectchildren, why would we select an enforcement mechanism which will inevitably harm the child?
- Police involvement in dynamic parenting disputes never helps. Nothing could be more upsetting for a child caught between waring parents than to have police officers descend on an already inflamed situation.
- Children derive no benefit from witnessing their parents getting into trouble with the law. They perceive police as being there to deal with “bad guys.” No child wants to think of their parent as being a “bad guy.” And no parent should place a child in such an emotionally conflicted position.
- If the objective is to prevent or discourage inappropriate parental behaviour, we must create sanctions which scare offending parents without scaring the child.
Instead, the father was forced to promise to the court that he would return the child as scheduled after this Thursday night access, failing which he would automatically have his access to her suspended until further notice. Plus, in light of what it called his “outrageous” behaviour, the court also slapped the father with $3,000 in costs for the motion, adding:
Unreasonable parents need to understand that hard-ball tactics can backfire in a very expensive way.
The court ended by saying:
I wish to make it clear to both of these parents that I am trying to send a very strong signal. Don’t engage in hard-ball tactics when it comes to parenting issues.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Mackie v. Crowther, 2019 ONSC 6431