Over the last decade, much work has been done to ease the stigma associated with mental health challenges. There’s no doubt that going through a separation or a divorce can have significant strains on people’s mental health. Issues related to a divorce, such as parenting time, can add to the difficulties people may experience. Occasionally, one parent might raise concerns about the mental health of the other parent and ask the courts to intervene on issues such as parenting time. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice shows how the courts might address such matters.
The mother and father involved in the dispute were married for less than a year and separated when the mother was six weeks pregnant with their child, who is now four years old. Parenting time has been an issue the parents have been at odds over since they separated.
Prior to the trial, the father had access on Tuesday and Thursday for four hours each day as well as on weekends for up to eight hours. He had no overnight visits, and all parenting time had to be supervised by one of his parents.
The father approached the court to ask for expanded parenting time, including overnight on weekends. The mother objected, stating she was concerned that the father had mental health issues that prevented him from providing a safe environment for the child.
The mother’s claims about the father’s mental health stem from an incident on August 3, 2019, when she claimed she saw messages on his Facebook account that indicated he was suicidal. She called the police who brought him to the hospital for an assessment.
The father admitted he had been looking at websites related to self-harm and had been drinking in the lead up to his hospitalization. The hospital allowed the father to return home but noted he may be at risk. Following the hospitalization, the courts expanded the father’s parenting time (to what it was before the hearing), but did not allow for overnight visits, highlighting mental health concerns related to both parties.
In the months that followed, the father saw a registered psychologist who stated the father was working hard towards improving his mental health and was taking the matter seriously. In addition, the father’s family doctor provided the court with a letter stating the father does not have mental health issues and is not using medication.
The court explained that it was the mother’s onus to show that supervision is necessary. The father looked at the mother’s evidence and noted that many of her allegations came without any, including allegations of family violence. The court also considered the father’s hospitalization and his dropping his use of medications following it. He provided all of his OHIP claims since 2012 and both a psychotherapist and psychologist offered opinions that he is not suffering from a mental health issue, nor is he using alcohol or drugs.
As a result, the court agreed with the father that his parenting time should be expanded, including overnight visits with the child.
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.