In high conflict separations where the parents cannot effectively cooperate and communicate to resolve their custody and access issues, joint custody is not a realistic option. The family law courts are often left with the decision to order sole custody to one of the parents and will consider all relevant factors in making this determination.
WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF PARENTAL ALIENATION IN A CHILD CUSTODY DISPUTE?
While preserving the status quo in the children’s residency is one factor, the family law courts have ordered sole custody to the non-resident parent in cases where the resident parent has intentionally alienated the children from the non-resident parent and used trivial, false and irrational reasons to restrict access. In extreme situations where the resident parent unjustifiably interferes with the children’s contact with the non-resident parent over a prolonged period to the point that the children’s relationship with the non-resident parent is at jeopardy, the courts have taken drastic steps in ordering sole custody to the non-resident parent in order to safeguard the children’s long-term relationship with that parent.
FAMILY LAW CASE: L. (A.G.) v. D. (K.B.)
In the decision of L. (A.G.) v. D. (K.B.) released earlier this year, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered sole custody of the three children to the father although they had been living with the mother since birth. In this case, the Court was faced with the decision to leave the children in the primary care of their mother where she has prevented and discouraged the children’s contact with the father, or order sole custody to the father in hopes that they would re-establish their relationship with both parents over time. The father was willing to enrol the children and himself in a specialized and intensive therapy program for children who have been alienated. This was an extreme case where the mother made false and groundless accusations against the father and did not permit the father to have access alone with the children despite court orders. The court found that the father was more likely to foster a relationship between the children and their mother while the mother was obstructing the children’s relationship with their father for the past 14 years. While the children expressed their wish to reside with the mother, the court found that their views and preferences were not independent due to the mother’s overwhelming influence on them.
The family law courts look favourably on parents who are able to encourage and facilitate the children’s relationship with the other parent where it is in the children’s best interest to have maximum contact with both parents.