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Posts from the ‘Custody’ Category

Court Says: Being Abusive to Your Child’s Other Parent = Bad Parenting

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Court Says: Being Abusive to Your Child’s Other Parent = Bad Parenting

In a recent Ontario decision involving a child custody and access determination, the court made a rather sweeping – though likely not incorrect – conclusion:

“[A]busing the other parent of your child be it verbally or in writing, is bad parenting.”

The facts of the case were chronicled in a prior Blog. They featured a father who asked the court to rule on the appropriate level of access he should be given to his child, who was now 5 years old.

The complicating factor was the nature of the father’s relationship with the child’s mother: He had been persistently abusive to her both verbally and emotionally, and took every opportunity to act vindictively toward her. Especially in his email and text conversations, he called her names like “bitch and “idiot” and engaged in blaming and manipulative behaviour. The court summed up this collective correspondence as being “extremely offences and abusive” and “vile and abusive”.

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Now that he was before the court to ask for access rights, the father claimed to have reformed himself. But after looking at a detailed chronicling of the incidents between them, the court found otherwise. It stated:

The court finds that there is no evidence to demonstrate that the father’s attitude towards the mother has changed in any significant way. While he says he has changed and that there is little recent evidence of inappropriate behaviour by him towards the mother, it was readily apparent during his evidence that he sees himself as the victim and the mother as the villain and that this belief system informs his judgment and decision making process.

Importantly, the court reflected on how the father’s continued abusiveness impacted on his ability to parent his child, especially in a shared parenting model which would require cooperation and communication between him and the mother. The court explained:

The court finds the father’s conduct towards the mother to be highly concerning. As difficult as the situation is between the parties and acknowledging that conflict between separated parents can create a heated and emotional environment, [the law] mandates the court not to treat this level of vitriol as typical or acceptable. What must be acknowledged is that this is very poor parenting. The way in which the parents treat one another goes directly to the issue of parenting. The court must acknowledge that abusing the other parent of your child be it verbally or in writing, is bad parenting. If this is how the father communicates when he feels the need to assert himself with the mother, how will these parents function in a shared parenting arrangement that will most certainly require frequent contact?

Perhaps the court’s conclusions simply accord with common sense. But while many child custody / access cases end up tainted by acrimony, parents seem to overlook the simple correlation between mistreating the other parent, and demonstrating to the court that their own parenting skill and judgment leaves something to be desired.

The decision in V.P. v. D.M. helps to make that connection clear. Hopefully more separated and divorcing parents will hear that message well in advance of their child custody hearings.

For the full text of the decision, see:

V.P. v. D.M., 2019 ONCJ 289 (CanLII),

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Cross-Border Kid:  Where Should Kid with Dual Citizenship Live and Attend School?

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Cross-Border Kid:  Where Should Kid with Dual Citizenship Live and Attend School?

In a recent case called Stoughton v. O’Ney, the court faced a unique problem that it described this way:

Sarah and Jessica are the parents of Rory who is a 4 year old boy. Currently, they share parenting time with him on an equal basis … Sarah lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario and Jessica lives in Niagara Falls, New York.  Rory is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  Because of the international border, it is not practical for Rory to continue this schedule once he attends school full-time. He must have primary residency with one parent and attend school either in the United States or Canada.  As he should begin school in September 2019, this issue must be resolved.

The court also prefaced its ruling with a comment on the difficulty of the task:

From all of the evidence that I have heard, it was evident that Rory is a lovable, intelligent child and that Rory has two loving mothers who want only the best for him.   Both mothers acknowledge that the other mother only wants what is best for Rory.

This makes the issue of where Rory should attend school, and what the arrangement for his custody should be, very difficult.

The court explained that Rory was born in 2014 in Buffalo, New York after Jessica was impregnated with an anonymous sperm donor. The couple then lived in Ontario immediately after they were married in Canada that same years.

The court started with the observation that joint custody was not an option in this scenario;  it would have to make a sole custody determination, which would in turn dictate both Rory’s primary residence, and the school he would attend.

After emphasizing that the best interests of the child always govern such determinations, the court noted in passing that even for same-sex parents, Rory’s best interests are also the sole governing test.  The law also states that for children conceived through assisted reproduction, each of the spouse are considered to be parents for these purposes, and both have an equal right to custody.  Finally, the goal of maximum contact with each parent is a mandatory consideration, but if the parents are to have joint custody, then there must be a high level of cooperation and communication.

Both mothers gave evidence, as did various extended family members on both sides.  The court heard a litany of testimony around various issues, including the details of their same-sex marriage ceremony in both New York and Canada, how each parent characterized the parenting skills of the other, allegations of dishonesty and abusive conduct, issues and conflict with extended family members, and numerous aspects pertaining to the relationship with the child.

The court also heard the respective plan that each parent had for Rory, in the event that sole custody was granted to them, including the plans relating to schooling.

Sarah’s plan involved having him attend a small U.S. private school close to her work.  It had very small class sizes and the capacity to deal with Rory’s special needs, and could accommodate his weekly speech therapy sessions.

Jessica, in contrast, had done little research on Ontario schools, other than to look into what schools were in her neighbourhood.  She had not explored what services might be available to Rory in Ontario schools.  The court heard the unbiased evidence of the private school principal, over that of Jessica whose evidence appeared to be self-serving.

While noting that both proposed plans had advantages for Rory, the court found the plan proposed by Sarah was overall stronger, and in Rory’s best interests.  It also noted differences in the cooperation levels between the two parents.  In an almost 300-paragraph ruling, the court summarized its conclusion this way:

Because of Jessica’s actions in the past, I have grave concerns that if she were granted sole custody and primary residence of Rory, she would effectively cut Sarah out of Rory’s life.  Because of the inclusive way that Sarah has acted in the past, I have no such concerns if she were granted sole custody and primary residence of Rory. …

I find that Sarah is clearly able to meet, and has been meeting, Rory’s needs, both emotional and physical.  Very importantly she has been doing this in a way that is very inclusive of Jessica, ensuring that Jessica is a part of that journey.

I find that after a gap of over one year, Jessica has taken steps in New York to provide for Rory’s needs, but has done it in a way that totally excludes Sarah from that process.

The court ordered Sarah to have sole custody of Rory, and he would attend school in the Niagara Region of Ontario. Jessica was allowed stipulated access (including overnights), and was ordered to pay a set level of child support, and was entitled to participate in parent/teacher interviews, and to be given copies of his report cards, among other things.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stoughton v. O’Ney, 2019 

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Italy Proposes New Law with Hopes to Abolish “Support”

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Italy Proposes New Law with Hopes to Abolish “Support”

The Italian government has recently proposed a Bill to abolish child support and sole custody. The Bill is intended to provide a framework for “perfect co-parenting”, yet critics fear the effects it may have on women’s rights.

The Bill indicates it would enable parents equal time with their children and each parent would pay for the child’s expenses whenever they are in their care. If one of the parents are unable to pay the expenses, then the other parent (who has the financial means) would pay for those expenses directly and not in the form of “support”.

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Critics of the proposed legislation fear that since Italy’s society is made up of less than 50 percent of women who work outside of the home, that this would influence mother’s with unstable employment to feel pressured into remaining in an unhealthy marriage. Nadia Somma, a representative of Demetra, an Italian anti-domestic violence center, stated that the proposed law would “turn back the clock 50 years on women’s rights”.

Due to current government support, this legislation is likely to pass in the Italian Parliament. Experts indicate the enforcement period to range from six to 17 months.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

 

 

Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

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Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which is the largest professional, nation-wide association for lawyers in Canada, has recently recommended updates to the federal Divorce Act. Put forward by the CBA’s Family Law Section, these suggested changes are aimed at reflecting new realities related to modern-day parenting.
The proposed changes relate to three topics:

• Relocation – Although the test for a court ordering a child to be relocated hinges on the “best interests” of that child, courts are given little guidance on how to apply that test in specific cases. The proposed legislative changes would improve clarity and consistency.

• Child Support in shared parenting situations – The suggested amendments call for the legislation to include a formula for determining child support in shared parenting situations. Currently, the proper approach for courts to apply is complex.

• Updating Divorce Act terminology – The CBA’s proposed changes would see both the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Divorce Act get updated so that terms such as “custody”, “access” and “best interests of the child” are modernized and replaced with more progressive terms. In particular, the clarity and meaning of the latter term would benefit from incorporating specified factors such as the impact of the child’s cultural, linguistic or spiritual upbringing, as well as the question of whether there is domestic violence in his or her home life.
If for no other reason, from a sheer temporal standpoint this kind of “freshening up” of the Divorce Act is long overdue, since it’s provisions have not been significantly amended for 30 years.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

“If Only He’d Have Been Nice to Fluffy”

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“If Only He’d Have Been Nice to Fluffy”

Justice Pazaratz, known for the colourful writing in his family litigation rulings, begins his judgment in a particularly acrimonious custody case this way:

If only he’d been nice to Fluffy.

Sometimes in custody trials it’s the little things — literally — that help judges figure out what’s really going on.

Because believe it or not, judges realize that how people present themselves in affidavits and on the witness stand, is not necessarily how they behave when no one is looking.

Sometimes the little things can speak volumes.

In this case, among the “little things” that the judge referred to a stuffed animal that was dear to the child that the warring parents had together.

The back-story was this: The couple had met when they both worked as flight attendants.  When she unexpectedly became pregnant with his child, they agreed that she would move in with him, but she moved out about 6 weeks later because he was inflexible and domineering with her and with her two older twins from another relationship.  The acrimony continued – and indeed was heightened – in the time following separation, when the parents had numerous conflicts over sharing custody and their different approaches to caring for the child.  They now appeared before Justice Pazaratz to determine who should have sole custody of their 3.5-year-old child (and neither of them was willing to compromise with joint custody or parallel parenting).

Justice Pazaratz chronicled numerous incidents between the couple, with the pervasive theme being the intransigence of the father in his dealings with the mother and their child.  The judge wrote:

FLUFFY

But perhaps the most mind-boggling expression of the [father’s] hostility and defiance toward the [mother] relates to Fluffy: a small, white, stuffed animal [the daughter] became attached to when she was about seven months old. The [mother] testified at length about this — and the [father] didn’t deny any of her allegations.

The first incident occurred in March 2015:

  1. [The daughter] was experiencing separation anxiety when she went on visits with the [father].
  2. So the [mother] said she “negotiated” with [the daughter] that she could take Fluffy with her when she went on visits.
  3. When the [father] arrived at the front of her home to pick [the daughter] up for a visit he immediately pulled Fluffy from [the daughter’s] arm, pushed Fluffy into the [mother’s] face, and told her “I have my own stuffed animals.”
  4. The [mother] testified [the daughter] became hysterical, but the [father] simply left with the child. Fluffy stayed behind.

The second incident occurred in April 2015:

  1. The [wife] sent the [husband] an e-mail explaining that [daughter] was still experiencing separation anxiety and that the child would be bringing Fluffy with her because she found the stuffed animal emotionally reassuring.
  2. However, when the [father] attended at the front of her home to pick [the daughter] up, he again removed Fluffy from the child’s arms, this time throwing Fluffy onto the driveway.
  3. Once again [the daughter] became hysterical. The [father] took her for the visit. The [mother] retrieved Fluffy and went back in her house.

The [mother] testified that later in 2015 they went to court and negotiated a resolution of the Fluffy issue. (Pause for a moment to let that sink in: They went to court to negotiate a Fluffy resolution.) The [father] finally agreed that Fluffy could accompany [the daughter] during visits.

But it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for common sense.

  1. The [father] developed a new routine:
  2. At the beginning of each visit, when he came to pick up [the daughter], she was allowed to bring Fluffy with her.
  3. But as soon as they got to his car, the [father] tossed Fluffy into his trunk and closed it. They then drove away.
  4. To the [mother’s] knowledge, Fluffy remained in the trunk during the entire visit.
  5. At the end of visits, the [father] retrieved Fluffy from his trunk, and handed the doll back to [the daughter].
  6. I suppose technically Fluffy got to come along for the ride.

But things got even worse for Fluffy.

  1. The [mother] testified that after a while, whenever Fluffy came out of the [father’s] trunk, the little stuffed animal smelled terrible. Fluffy gave off a noxious odor, as if dipped in Vicks VapoRub or camphor oil.
  2. The [mother] said on three occasions she had to wash Fluffy because [the daughter] couldn’t possibly play with a toy which had apparently been doused in an offensive and potentially dangerous substance.
  3. The [mother] e-mailed the [father] asking why he was damaging the child’s prized possession.
  4. The [father] accused her of fabricating a complaint.
  5. The [mother] said she finally gave up and stopped sending Fluffy.

 

I have no idea why the [father] allowed Fluffy to turn into such a major and unwinnable competition.

  1. He doesn’t like the [mother]. I get it.

  1. But Fluffy was just….Fluffy.
  2. Just a harmless little toy of no consequence to anyone….except a vulnerable two year old caught in the middle of a bitter custody dispute.
  3. Would it have killed him to just let the child hang on to her toy?
  4. Was it really necessary to make his daughter cry, just to flex his need for control?
  5. In Coe v. Tope, 2014 ONSC 4002 (Ont. S.C.J.) this court offered some very simple advice for situations like this: Stop acting like you hate your ex more than you love your child.

Despite finding that they were both good parents and both loved the child equally, Justice Pazaratz concluded as follows:

The bottom line: Despite unquestioning love, incredible passion, and impressive credentials — the [father] has given us every reason to worry that if he is granted decision making authority, he will not promote the [wife] in [the daughter’s] life. There is a real danger he will shut the mother out.

In contrast, the [mother] has provided overwhelming reassurance that she has always made good and fair decisions for [the daughter], and she will continue to co-parent with the [father].

Family Court Judges don’t have a crystal ball. We can only go on the basis of how parents have behaved so far.

After reviewing all the circumstances in detailed and lengthy reasons, Justice Pazaratz concluded that it was in child’s best interests that mother be granted sole custody.  And – true to form – he added the following admonishment to the father, at the end of the judgment:

POSTSCRIPT

If only he’d been nice to Fluffy.

If only he’d been nice to the [mother].

If only the [father] had remembered the two magic words of custody cases.

”Be nice.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Chomos v Hamilton

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

If You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

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If You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

The facts in Cheng v. Liu are a little unusual, but the core question was this:

If a couple’s divorce is validly granted outside of Canada by a foreign court, does this preclude a Canadian court from later making any corollary orders – such as rulings on issues of support or custody – arising from that same divorce?

The husband, an engineer, was a Canadian citizen who lived in Canada.  The wife lived in China and had never been to Canada.  They got married in China in 2006 and had a daughter who lived with the wife in China her entire life.  They separated about a year after getting married, in around late 2007 or early 2008.

The wife then covered all the legal bases:  She applied in China for a divorce, and custody of their child.  She also applied in Canadian, under the federal Divorce Act, to ask for a divorce, as well as spousal support, child support, and custody.  Finally, also in Canada under the Ontario Family Law Act, she asked for equalization of net family property.

Meanwhile, the Chinese court granted the wife her divorce and awarded her sole custody of the child.  The wife’s other Ontario-based claims were still pending.

The husband, faced with all of these competing actions requiring his response, asked the Ontario court to suspend (or “stay”) the proceedings so that the entire matter could be determined in China.  This led to several rulings and some procedural wrangling, and ultimately a hearing before the Ontario Court of Appeal for its determination.

Against this complicated background the Ontario Court of Appeal had a simple question to consider:  In light of the Chinese divorce order, could a Canadian court make additional orders relating to child support, spousal support, and equalization of property?

The Court’s conclusion was mixed:  The divorce-related issues were closed for consideration, but the child support issues were still up for an Ontario Family court to rule on.

On the first point – and based on longstanding precedent that considered the provisions of the federal Divorce Act – the law states that once the foreign Chinese court had made a valid divorce order, this removes the authority of the Ontario court to hear and determine corollary matters.  So on the remaining divorce-related issues, the Ontario court had no authority.

However, the situation under the provincial Family Law Act was different:  the Ontario court could still rule on questions relating to child support, since the foreign court in China had not already done so in its divorce order.   The Family Law Act allowed child support claims to be made even after a divorce, and the foreign divorce order had no impact on that.  Indeed, the whole purpose for the Ontario legislation was to ensure that parents provide financial support for their dependent children.  Allowing the Ontario court to continuing to make orders under the Family Law Act even though the Divorce Act provisions had been trumped was actually a harmonious outcome to ensure child support would be covered.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cheng v. Liu

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Thinking of Doing Some Cyber-Sleuthing? Think Again

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Thinking of Doing Some Cyber-Sleuthing? Think Again

I wrote a recent Blog about the admissibility of surreptitiously-recorded telephone conversations in Family law proceedings.  I have also written several times on how courts approach the admission of Facebook evidence.

Particularly in nasty divorce and custody disputes, it is likely that courts will have to grapple with these kinds of issues regularly, given how easy its become for spouses to try to secretly gather evidence against each other, using a Smartphone, keystroke logger, spyware, etc.

But for the average embattled spouse locked in bitter litigation, how effective is this as an evidence-gathering mechanism for use in Family court?

The answer:  Not very.

Under Canadian law, secretly-gathered computer data, emails, internet history, video, audio and similar evidence is generally not admissible in routine Family law hearings, except in unusual circumstances and only after a court has held a separate mini-hearing, called a voir dire, on the specific issue.  Overall, the odds are not very good that such evidence will be admitted.

Case in point:  In a called T. (T.) v. J.(T.) the court considered a situation where the husband had hacked into his wife’s private email, using the password she had allowed him to have when the marriage was in happier times.   The emails disclosed what was, in the court’s words, “an arguably disturbing exchange between [the wife] and her lawyer, which could be interpreted as evidencing some potential risk or threat to his safety.”  Still, the court found the husband’s email hacking was not only unjustified, it was a clear violation of the wife’s privacy rights.  The court also concluded that the email evidence irrelevant and inadmissible.

Similarly, in a decision in U. (A.J.) v. U. (G.S.) the court considered whether to admit evidence that the husband had collected through the use of spyware he had illegally installed on his former wife’s laptop.  The evidence showed the wife’s activities on internet chat rooms, and established that she had engaged in extra-marital sex.  The court examined the issue in the context of the couple’s dispute over custody and access issues, ultimately concluding that the affair and the online activity was out-of-character for the wife, and was not reflective of her ability to parent the children of the marriage.  The court added that it would be “a rare case” that illegally-obtained evidence should be admitted, and only after the trial judge holds a hearing to determine its admissibility.  The burden was always on the party seeking to enter such evidence to establish “a compelling reason to do so.”

For the full text of the decisions, see:

(A.J.) v. U. (G.S.)

(T.) v. J. (T.)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Parents Lose Custody for Failing to Respect Teenager’s Wish to Transgender

 

Parents Lose Custody for Failing to Respect Teenager’s Wish to Transgender

An Ohio Court was recently asked rule on who should make medical decisions for a teenage boy who sought hormone treatment to enable him to transgender.

The parents did not consent and sought the court’s authority to stop the treatment. The child was placed in care of Family Services pending the outcome of the hearing.

The parents argued that given the child’s mental state he was not “even close to being able to make such a life-altering decision”.  Medical experts disagreed and submitted that the father’s conduct was harming the child.

The grandparents requested custody and offered to care for the child and were willing to make medical decisions with the child. This proposal was supported by the child’s court appointed guardian.

Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon ruled and CNN reported that:

The grandparents, rather than parents, will be the ones to help make medical decisions for the child going forward. But before any hormone treatment is allowed, the court ordered, the teen should be evaluated by a psychologist who is not affiliated with the current facility where he is receiving treatment, on “the issue of consistency in the child’s gender presentation, and feelings of non-conformity.”

 

In Ontario, we already have legislation to address this very issue. As we previously reviewed in “Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law Ontario’s amendments were aimed at:

courts, social workers, and adoption services. It mandates that when providing services or considering the best interests and welfare of a child, these entities must consider “race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

It also prevents parents from challenging a child’s same-sex orientation, or with identification not with the gender that he or she was born, but rather the opposite one.

This directive gives rise to a corollary assessment as well: Whether a child should be removed from a home where the parents oppose a child’s declaration of his or her homosexuality or choice of “gender”. The principle behind this part of the legislation is that a parent who refuses to recognize a child’s preference in this regard is actually perpetrating abuse; the child’s removal from the home environment and into child protection facilities would prevent further abuse from occurring.

It would appear that Ontario is ahead of the curve by crafting legislation designed to protect the rights of the individual and the best interest of children.

What are your thoughts?

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

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