Beginning with this quote from “The Tiger’s Bones”, The Tiger’s Bones and Other Plays for Children (Viking Press, 1974), these were the court’s opening words in a 370-paragraph ruling in a recent case called R.L. v. M.F.
“Nothing is free”, wrote the British poet, Ted Hughes. “Everything has to be paid for. For every profit in one thing, payment in some other thing.” So it was here, for the parties to this case. Each made decisions that they thought best for themselves and their family. Each decision exacted a cost, to them, their spouse and their family. That cost is, in part, being measured out in this decision. In many ways, it is a dear one for this entire family.
Some of the choices the court refers to related to career choices, parenting styles and approaches, and the way they each dealt with what turned out to be an acrimonious divorce. It all culminated in an 11-day trial where the court was asked to untangle various issues including parenting time, spousal support, child support, and division of property.
The parties had separated after 14.5 years of marriage and two children together. The father, who was a banker, now earned about $2 million a year. However, as the court concluded, his extreme success “exacted a heavy price” in his relationships with the mother and their two daughters. He was often absent as the children grew up.
Moreover, when things started to go badly in the marriage, he chose to stay in what the court called “a pressure cooker home situation” for 22 months post-separation; this not only spiked the level of conflict, but likely had a profound impact on his relationship with his daughters as well.
The mother, for her part, made some unfortunate decisions as well; many of these drove up the trial cost and duration. For example, from the financial side of untangling their affairs, the mother chose deliberate underemployment: Although she was a medical doctor who had significant earning capacity, she chose to work only part-time even though her teenage children no longer needed her full-time caregiving. This led the court to scrutinize her income-earning ability, and ultimately impute an annual income of $550,000 to her.
Troublingly, in her trial evidence before the court she also chose to attack the father’s character: While he was admittedly a less-than-perfect spouse and parent, she portrayed him as abusive, controlling and dangerous – allegedly exacerbated by his stints with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in Bosnia and Afghanistan. At various points she claimed that he had killed men in Afghanistan as a sniper, or else using man-to-man combat, and that she now feared he would kill her. But the court found these violent characterizations and fears were simply not borne out by the evidence. More concerning was that the children had taken on the mother’s hyperbolic views and fears of him, which she did little to dispel, even after the father took steps to repair his wounded relationships with them.
Thus the court was left untangle the often-conflicting testimony from each spouse, and compare it to the reports from the expert assessor, Dr. Radovanovic. In the course of making its ruling on credibility, the court summarized some of the questionable parts of the evidence this way:
Reasons for Scepticism About Each Party’s Evidence
150 From all of the above, it can be surmised that I have reason to be skeptical of both parties’ arguments about their credibility in comparison to the other. My reasons include:
For the Father:
a. The Father told Dr. Radovanovic that he never used spyware in the Home. Yet the evidence is clear that he purchased a spyware kit that included both spyware and anti-spyware. The children and the Mother were aware of this fact, which he attempts to downplay.
b. The children told Dr. Radovanovic that they overheard the Father berate the Mother. He called that rhetoric “playful”. In the circumstances of this case, that rationale is not believable.
c. The Father complained at trial that the Mother was undermining his attempt to reconcile with the children during his summer stay in Muskoka by doing some of the driving. Yet he requested that she do the driving. …
d. The Father claimed that the only babysitter that the Mother would allow for the children was the Grandmother. He cited that alleged fact as proof of her level of control over the children. Yet the evidence at trial showed that the Mother had recruited a number of non-family member babysitters.
For the Mother:
a. Most of my concerns regarding the Mother’s evidence relates to her exaggerated and even hyperbolic descriptions of the Father, both in and out of court. Among the examples are the following:
(i) In her intake forms for Dr. Radovanovic, the Mother unjustifiably described the Father in words that denoted a Rambo-like character. She wrote that he has a “potential for physical abuse and violent behaviour” towards the children. She went on to speak of her physical fear of his purported potential for violence. She ascribed this in part to a brutal and murderous term of service with the CAF. Those claims are bereft of any corroborating evidence and forcefully rejected by the Father. …
(iii) Similarly, as set out above, the Mother spoke of the Father “stalking” her and the children in the Home between the time of separation and his moving out. Yet much of what I heard sounded like woeful and desperate attempts to engage the children, and A. in particular, about why they had distanced themselves from him. There were times that he was weepy, both with them and Dr. Radovanovic, which they perceived as threatening. Dr. Radovanovic, who witnessed one such interaction, did not share that view.
(iv) Another extravagant description of the Father offered by the Mother in an email to Dr. Radovanovic was that of “master liar and manipulator: skills he has attained from his career in the military and banking sectors”. Among his purported skills is the ability to “…manipulate, withstand and administer intense questioning”. That certainly was not the impression that he gave at trial. While he did not fold under cross-examination, he was not masterful either, as some of the comments found elsewhere in these reasons show. Further, there is no evidence that he obtained the kind of training that she described, which appears to be the stuff of master spies. …
b. In considering these extreme allegations, I cannot ignore the fact that the parties lived together in a pressure cooker of a Home for twenty-two months after separating. Yet the Father never laid an inappropriate hand on or threatened either the Mother or the children. …
e. There is simply no evidence before the court that the Father ever posed a physical threat to any of the Mother or the children. Further, as Dr. Radovanovic pointed out and I observed during the trial, the Father can simply display an intense look.
Ultimately, the court ruled that while neither parent was outright intending to mislead the court, their respective evidence was “filtered” through the lens of their strong, subjective views. And while neither of their evidence was to be universally favoured over the other’s, court concluded that in particular the mother’s allegations of family violence and risk of harm by the father could not be taken at face value.
With these conclusions in mind, the court went on to make its various rulings on the parties’ multi-faceted disputes, in a long and very detailed judgment. Adverting back to the theme of the parents making deliberate choices, the court pronounced:
I add that both parents have chosen to engage in this very expensive, protracted and corrosive litigation.
Full text of the decision: R.L. v M.F, 2023 ONSC 2885 (CanLII)