When parents find themselves involved in child custody and access disputes, they may find that their behaviour comes under increased scrutiny. A recent decision issued by the Ontario Court of Justice serves as a reminder that when dealing with matters involving custody, it’s important to have demonstrated good parenting should it ever be questioned.

The background

The mother and father met in 2010 and maintained a friendly relationship over the years. At some point the mother purchased a condo in the same building as the father. They had a few intimate encounters, one of which led to the mother becoming pregnant. They didn’t ever live together and were never involved in a monogamous relationship.

After the birth of this child (who is now approaching six-years-old), the mother took a maternity leave and the father made regular visits with them. They were not able to agree on the frequency of these visits at trial, with the father stating he visited nightly while the mother said the visits were infrequent.

The parties got along fairly well until 2016 when they got into a disagreement about when the father should have care of the child. The father testified that he felt the mother used him to have the baby and then treated him as dispensable. He stated he was trying to assert his right to be involved with the child and that it’s in her best interest to spend equal time with each parent. The mother said that she had supported the father’s involvement in the child’s life, but at some point it became an intrusion and began to disrupt her routine and stability. The mother said the boundaries she set up were misinterpreted as obstacles which led to further conflict.

The peanut butter incident

The court was critical of the behaviour of both parents, but identified a number of areas where the father’s beahviour was especially poor. In 2016 the father’s sister was arriving in Toronto for a visit. The sister normally had a good relationship with both the mother and the father, but prior to her arrival he wrote her an email stating,

“The days of having it both ways are over! If during your visit, you feel that you ‘must’ visit or plan an event with [the mother] – the person who has deliberately ensured my worst fear, I will not be a part of whatever that may be and it will have repercussions on ‘our’ relationship. I trust you will respect my wishes.”

During that visit the father’s sister brought her child (“the niece”). The father knew the niece was allergic to peanuts, and had been asked to keep peanuts out of the house. However, during the visit he made a peanut butter sandwich for his daughter without knowing whether the niece was in the home. The court described the event as follows,

“At best the father made an irresponsible and potentially grave mistake giving (the child) a peanut butter sandwich while (the niece) was visiting. At worst he was sending a warning to his sister of the ‘repercussions’ she would face for taking ‘[the mother’s] side in this dispute and that she was not supportive’ of him.”

Investigation by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer

Each of the parents was critical of the behaviour of the other. Ultimately, the clinical investigator appointed by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer found that each parent displayed good parenting skills, but was critical of a number of things the father did, including sending verbally abusive emails to the mother, telling the child the mother only pretends to love her, asking the child to ask the mother for sleepovers at the father’s house, and a number of incidents that made the child aware of the conflict between the parents. The investigator recommended the mother be granted sole custody, writing, “ “With respect to custody, joint custody is not appropriate in families where there is high conflict. [The mother] has always been [C.B.]’s primary caregiver and she should have sole custody.”

The court agreed with the recommendation and ordered the mother to have sole custody with the father having access in accordance with a strict schedule.

It is important to contact an experience family lawyer if you are contemplating a separation, or are already in the process, and there are children involved. The family law lawyers and their predecessors at NULaw  have been helping clients in Toronto since 1953. Our lawyers 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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