When spouses are divorcing and there are children involved, courts are extremely vigilant to protect those children’s interests. To this end, courts adhere to many child-focused principles when making decisions, especially on an interim basis pending an upcoming divorce trial.
Among these is the principle that courts should be justifiably reluctant to disturb the status quo. From the children’s standpoint, that can include where they live and with whom, together with other day-to-day aspects such as the schools and extracurricular activities they attend.
The objective of course is that children’s lives should be disturbed as little as possible during the divorce and after. (And while preserving the status quo is not a factor that trumps the many others that a court must take into account, it’s one that gets considered thoroughly).
But as a recent Ontario decision shows, courts will readily change the status quo when it means protecting the children from one parent’s attempts to alienate them from the other parent.
The case involved the parents of two young children, aged two and four. They had married in 2019 and separated only two years later in 2021 when the mother left the home, taking the children with her. An initial court order temporarily granted the mother the majority of parenting time on a specified schedule, with the eldest child attending a school near her home.
But soon after the father brought a motion to have that changed. Their separation was very high-conflict, and the father had evidence the mother was trying to alienate the children from him. She had also reported him to the police and the Children’s Aid Society as someone to “watch out for”, the court heard, and had marginalized him in the small, close-knit community where they all lived.
On this basis the father applied to have the mother’s overall parenting time reduced, and asked to have the school-aged child attend a public school near him instead.
After looking at the current acrimonious relationship between the spouses – most especially the mother’s attempts to alienate the children from the father – the court granted the father’s motion to change.
Admittedly, the children’s status quo so far had seen them mainly living with the mother. Courts are reluctant to change the status quo before trial unless there is a “compelling reason” to do so. But here the mother’s alienation efforts and negative attitude toward the father was troubling. It ensured he would not be treated as an equal parent – which in turn would detrimentally impact the children.
That alone served as a “compelling reason” to change the pre-trial arrangement originally ordered, the court said. Besides, it would actually be less disruptive to the children overall, since the new schedule would reduce the number of exchanges by requiring only 8 transitions in 28 days, rather than the current 12 transitions needed. Given the acrimony between the parents, this reduced contact would be for the best, especially since it still featured a shared parenting arrangement – just with a different schedule.
Full text of the decision: Denomme v. Denomme, 2022 ONSC 5205 (CanLII)