Barbara Kay: Rare justice sees mother punished for using children as weapons against Dad
National Post - Friday August 8th, 2014
A few months ago, bowing to pressure from the Canadian Bar Association, the federal government slammed the door shut on a private member’s bill advancing shared parenting as the default in child custody after parental separation.
What a mistake that was! And the following story illustrates why.
A Toronto father known only as Marco, whose ex-wife has custody of their two daughters, 10 and 7, had arranged for his elder daughter’s First Communion on one of “his” weekends with the children. The whole weekend was dedicated to the big event, with the girls signed up for manicures the day before and a party for 30 people planned at a restaurant for the day after.
But when he arrived to pick them up at school the day before the weekend, their mother refused to allow them to go, unilaterally cancelling his court-ordered access. The entire celebration had to be called off. Everyone was devastated, none more so than the children.
I’ve heard stories like this many times. And in most cases, even when the father supposedly has the court on his side, judges routinely shrug and say there is nothing they can do if the mother won’t cooperate. But this time Superior Court Justice Alison Harvison Young shared Marco’s indignation. She saw the mother’s revenge scenario for what it was: “shocking conduct” in an attempt to alienate the girls from their father.
The judge soon discovered that during their high conflict separation of five years, there had been “a systematic attempt to minimize and marginalize the father’s role in his children’s lives, and to denigrate and degrade him in their eyes.” For example, their agreement was supposed to permit Marco a nightly telephone call with the girls, which the mother prevented, even denying him knowledge of a changed number. As well, the judge learned that the mother and her boyfriend routinely disparaged Marco in front of the daughters.
As a result of the judge’s clear-eyed view of the scenario, the First Communion was rescheduled, with police enforcement if necessary (almost unheard-of even when court-ordered access is repeatedly denied). A non-disparagement order was issued. And child-appropriate cellphones were programmed so he could reach them when he wanted to. The ex-wife was ordered to pay Marco $1,261 to cover the set costs of the cancelled weekend.
In her ruling, Justice Harvison Young wrote, “The mother’s conduct was a serious and unjustifiable breach [of their agreement] and reflects an unfortunate pattern of conduct on her part. It is important that it be sanctioned and that she understands such actions will have consequences.”
Most importantly, the judge made it clear to the mother that if the mother did not begin putting the best interests of the children first and change her alienating ways, her sole custody of the children could be jeopardized.
The just outcome of the story will doubtless be very gratifying to many readers, but it will probably also make certain other readers very angry. It makes me angry. Why? Because Marco should never have been so helpless in the first place. If it were not for the insight of this particular judge, that First Communion might never have happened, Marco might never have regained his telephone privileges and his access to his daughters might have continued to fluctuate according to the mother’s whim, not to mention that his daughters might have eventually been totally alienated from him for life.
The mother’s conduct was a serious and unjustifiable breach [of their agreement] and reflects an unfortunate pattern of conduct on her part.
It’s all the luck of the draw, you see. I hear many similarly tragic stories of alienation. I only wish I heard many such happy outcomes as this. And yet it could even have been happier.
A happier outcome would have been a summary order to revisit the custody agreement immediately instead of issuing a warning. The mother has proved beyond a doubt that she does not have her children’s interests at heart, and that her wish for revenge trumps her love for her daughters. While the father has proved that he loves his daughters very much.
If, when this couple separated, the family law default had been shared parenting, this situation would not have arisen. The mother would have had to prove the father was abusive to get sole custody. The girls would be as much in their father’s company as in their mother’s. Alienation cannot easily take root in such a situation.
Marco was lucky; other parents – mostly fathers – are not. In a just society, no loving parent should need luck to have access to his children.