For parents who are divorced or separated, the start of the school year can bring with it conflict in a relationship that is otherwise free of it. Of course, parents are not the only ones who experience feelings of stress during these moments. Switching schools or changing parenting schedules can be tough on children, too. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice shows how the courts approach requests to have children change schools as well as how such decisions may impact pre-existing parenting schedules.

Switching schools

The trial followed a previous order granted on June 18, allowing the mother to move two of the couple’s youngest children (they have three) from one school district to another. The move from Barrhaven to Orleans, Ontario, is just under 40km. The father had opposed this, but when the order was issued the judge indicated that he was prepared to make a modest increase to the father’s parenting time, particularly with the youngest of the children (“L”). This statement was made due to the challenges created by the mother’s relocation to Orleans. The parties were unable to reach an agreement on what that parenting schedule would be, so the matter ended up back before the same judge.

The father’s position

The father was looking for a summer schedule that saw him have care of L from 4:00pm Tuesday-4:00pm Wednesday, from 4:00pm Thursday to 4:00pm Friday, and every other weekend from 4:00pm Friday until 9:00am Monday. During the school year he proposed a similar schedule, though with times slightly changed due to school.

The father’s position was that the parenting schedule reflects the one that L had been used to, maximizing time between L and the father. The father stated L enjoys spending time with him and thrives when that time is increased. The father also said the proposal ensures driving is split between both parties, but with an increase of driving for the mother.

The father stated that the mother’s proposed schedule (explained below) was not acceptable because it does not follow the status quo, it reduces his overnight visits, and it involves more driving than is necessary.

The mother’s proposal

The mother’s proposal saw L spending every other weekend with the father. Following weekends with his mother, he would stay with the father from Tuesday at 5:30pm until Thursday at 8:30pm. On weekends where he stayed with his father, the father would have L from Wednesday at 5:30pm to Thursday at 8:30pm. Each parent would also get a straight week of time in the summer.

The court’s analysis

The court noted that the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) stated that it had not been able to speak about the proposals with L, but mentioned in the past he expressed a desire to spend equal time with each parent. The OCL suggested that travel time be limited and that L not be subjected to the tension between the parents.

The court noted that the best interests of L must be front and centre in its decision. The court noted that the existing parenting schedule had been working well for L, and that a modest increase in time for the father should still resemble the existing arrangement. The court also found that exchanges should occur in a neutral location, but that the mother bears some added responsibilities of driving due to her decision to move.

Ultimately, the court determined that the father’s proposal, with some changes, was the best for L.

If you are contemplating a separation, or are already in the process, and there are children involved, your first step should be to consult with a family lawyer who has experience with custody and access matters. NULaw and its predecessors have been helping clients in Toronto since 1953. We provide clear, practical advice so that clients can make informed decisions about their parental rights. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.

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