Pot-Laced Cookies, Secret Recordings – How to Split Parenting Time Between “Immature” Parents?
In a decision called Van Ruyven v. Van Ruyven the court began the decision this way:
One cookie and just a nibble or two. That is all that it took to weaponize the parties’ separation. Unfortunately, it was not just an ordinary cookie. It was a one laced with marijuana. And the person who took that nibble or two was the parties’ four-year-old child, A. That was enough to set off the explosion of recrimination and blame-shifting that led to this motion.
The cookie that the child sampled from had belonged to the father; she had found it in his toiletry bag while in the parents’ bathroom. Upon discovering what the child had done, the mother had an ambulance rush her to hospital, where the examining doctor nonetheless concluded there was no significant risk to the child’s health.
The mother’s next move was to search the father’s bedroom, where she found a Tupperware container of marijuana in his gym bag. Having concluded the father was reckless, she unilaterally and surreptitiously removed the child to her parents’ condo. She then withheld the child from the father – and refused to even tell him where she had been taken. She justified this on the basis that the father posed a threat to the child.
The matter came before the court, with the father asking for interim primary care of the child. The mother countered with a request for primary care as well.
The court began by noting that its focus was to remain on the best interests of the child at all times, but added:
The list of best interests factors is not a checklist to be tabulated with the highest score winning. Rather it calls for the court to take a holistic look at the child, her needs and the people around her.
Next, the court observed that while recent changes to the Divorce Act had removed the “maximum contact” principle, the notion that a child should have as much contact as possible with each parent is still an important part of the court’s “best interests of the child” considerations. However, under either iteration, this does not necessarily mean that the parents should enjoy equal parenting time. Rather, each family is different, and the principle is a “guide set out to benefit children”.
In this case, the court expressed concerned about both parents’ behaviour toward each other. For one thing, each had surreptitiously recorded the other; however the court refused to listen to such evidence, noting that were only to be used in exigent circumstances and with “extreme caution” in family litigation.
Also, the parties’ behaviour around the pot-cookie incident did not help. The father exercised poor judgment in leaving his marijuana where the child could find it, and then underplayed the incident. The mother overreacted, and then used the subsequent Tupperware discovery as an excuse to remove the child from the home, change her residence, and cut off the father’s contact. These self-help measures reflected poorly on her own parenting skills and judgment.
The court admonished the parents with these words:
Both parents have acted badly and dare I say, immaturely towards each other. Each has secretly recorded the other multiple times. The mother has twice attempted to secretly surveil the father using a GPS device, whether on his car or gym bag. Their child needs them to grow up and find a way to act better, towards both each other and by doing so, towards her as well.
In the end, the court rejected the mother’s parenting plan, which involved a schedule that saw the father and child being kept apart for 9-day spans at various points. It also refused the mother’s request for permission to change the child’s residence to Toronto, as she requested.
The court preferred the father’s more child-centered “shared time” proposal, since the time away from either parent was three days at maximum, and included each parent having 15 minutes of video contact with the non-residence parent each day – all of which was in the child’s best interests, the court concluded.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Van Ruyven v. Van Ruyven, 2021 ONSC 5963