In one of our recent blogs, we featured a case Did Wife’s PTSD from Time in a Ukrainian Bomb Shelter Amount to “Material Change”? where the court heard evidence that the wife’s newly-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was the cause behind her current state of unemployment. It went on to conclude this development amounted to a “material change in circumstances” that called for an upward adjustment to the spousal support she had been receiving from the husband.
In another recent case called M.P.M. v. A.L.M., the court rejected a mother’s claim that her PTSD had made it impossible for her to comply with a court order – one that required her to facilitate video access sessions with her children’s father, as part of his court-ordered parenting time entitlement.
The case affords a glimpse at the application of basic legal principle: That a parent has a duty to comply with court orders, especially those that are in the best interest of the children.
The parents in M.P.M. v. A.L.M. had already had their trial, and it resulted in an order that gave the father specified parenting time each week. It stated he “shall have video access to the children using Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp or such other application as counsel may agree on their behalf, for a minimum of fifteen minutes.”
Although this virtual parenting time order had been in place since April of 2020, in more than two years since he had not had visual contact with the children at all. The mother had thwarted his efforts: She often did not answer his video calls, and when she did, she did not require or encourage the children to sit in front of the camera, or even speak to him. On some occasions the camera was pointed at the ceiling; the father was convinced the children were not even in the room.
The court summarized the “he-said/she-said” nature of the parents’ evidence:
He submits that the mother refuses to assist in facilitating the calls in any way. He claims she does not encourage the children to speak or sit in front of the camera.
The mother deposes that the virtual parenting time has been occurring regularly, every Wednesday evening and every other Sunday, in accordance with the Review Order. She claims the father has failed to call on several occasions and that the children refused to come on camera to speak to their father.
The mother alleges that she consistently and strongly encourages the children to speak with their father to rebuild their relationship with him. She denies that the children are not present during the virtual parenting time.
The father deposes that on September 1, 2021, he made a video call which went unanswered. He preceded to call again and sent two messages to the mother on the parenting app. He claims the mother responded by indicating her phone was on silent because of work commitments.
The mother believes that to insist and request a court order that she be present to facilitate virtual parenting time calls is a continuation of the father’s coercive and controlling behaviour.
The mother claims that short of physically forcing the children, there is nothing she can do to force them to be in front of the camera or to make them speak.
She suggests that the children’s mental health challenges and the risk that they might self-harm prohibits her from punishing them or withdrawing privileges to force compliance.
Since April 20, 2022, the father deposes that he contacted the children on the mother’s telephone nine times to have virtual parenting time. He deposes that in eight of the nine instances, the video calls were answered, however the phone was pointed upward towards the sky or ceiling and neither child uttered a word.
The father does not believe that the children were present when the calls were answered. He deposes that there were other instances when video calls were not answered at all despite him contacting the mother and communicating with her on the parenting app about the unanswered calls.
The mother admitted that that there has been no “visual or auditory contact” between the father and the children, and that she did not actively bring the children forward for any of the court-ordered parenting time the father was entitled to.
The court heard the mother claim she while she was doing everything in her power to help the children, she was also suffering from PTSD. This was allegedly due to abuse perpetrated by the father, as well as the subsequent pressure of their divorce litigation. She also claimed to be under extreme financial stress, which meant she had to be a self-represented litigant. Finally, she claimed the court order on video access was confusing and hard to process mentally, especially given her PTSD.
The court rejected the mother’s excuses for not complying with the court order on video access. While it was sympathetic to the mother’s past and current emotional distress, her PTSD diagnosis was not a basis for exercising discretion in her favour here.
It is the role of a parent to abide by court orders, at least until they have been terminated or varied. This is not merely as a parent’s duty to the court; it is also duty to their own children. Further, parents also have a positive obligation to do all that they can, to ensure that even a resistant child actually follows through with court-ordered contact with the access parent.
To this, the court added:
However difficult it may be for her, the mother’s past, present, or current mental health cannot usurp the role she plays in ensuring the best interests of the children are met, both currently and in the long-term.
As much as the mother claimed her own and the children’s fragile mental state prohibited her from forcing them to attend parenting time with the father, there was no real evidence to accept this position, the court found. It said:
The mother’s rationale does not absolve her of her duty to abide by court orders. She has a positive obligation to ensure that she and the children comply with parenting time orders.
The mother has failed to demonstrate that she has done all she reasonably can do to ensure compliance with court orders.
The court went on to resolve numerous remaining issues between the parents.