Unilateral actions in parenting cases cause conflict and should be discouraged: Superior Court

Parents were laid off work, facing financial and debt challenges

Unilateral actions in parenting cases cause conflict and should be discouraged: Superior Court

In a recent custody case, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice called attention to how making disparaging allegations about the other parent during the proceedings may negatively impact the children.

In Morrison v. Morrison, 2020 ONSC 4730, the parties, who had an 11-year relationship during which they parented four children, separated in March. Following the separation, they continued to live together in the family home. The family was facing financial and debt challenges, with both parents currently laid off at work.

However, in June, the mother, to the father’s surprise, moved to her sister’s home with the children, as well as with her 16-year old daughter from a previous relationship. Because the new residence is a 10-kilometre drive away, the children are expected to still go to the same school and to continue the same activities and familial interactions as before.

The issue was which parent should be granted interim custody, as well as which parent’s home should be set as the interim primary residence of the children, considering the best interests of the children. The court cited s. 24(2) and s. 24(3) and (4) of the Children’s Law Reform Act as its legal basis.

“The best interests of the child in situations of breakdown are better served with considered parenting plans and communications that acknowledge and will work beyond the past difficulties to flexibly address the actual needs of the child,” the court said.

The court said that the parties had both taken unilateral actions and adversarial approaches, which caused conflict, something which should be avoided particularly for its impact on the children. The parties engaged in a tug-of-war contest and in an all-or-nothing approach to custody, the court said.

The mother and the father provided conflicting affidavit evidence and made various claims regarding the other’s negative influence on the children. The mother made allegations regarding the father’s previous drug use, his gun cabinet and his lack of presence in the family while he was working. The father in turn alleged that the mother had a domineering approach.
The court said that, while the parties had lately gone through difficulties, this recent trend was not reflective of a pattern during their 11-year relationship. Before their separation, both parties properly parented the children and shared a healthy relationship with the children, so there was no reason why they couldn’t share parenting and custody on an interim basis, the court said.

The court therefore ordered, on an interim basis, that the children would stay with one parent or the other on alternate weeks and would have video access to the other parent for an hour per day when staying with one parent.

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