In a recent decision, an Ontario court awarded a mother $3,000 for a father’s “hard-ball tactics” in a dispute over attendance of their daughter’s hockey tournament.
At issue was the enforcement of a consent order between two parents.
Pursuant to the 2015 consent order, the parents shared joint custody of their 9-year old daughter. The daughter had her primary residence with the mother, while the father had specified access which included alternate weekends, every Tuesday, and alternate Thursdays.
The daughter was actively involved in a girls’ hockey league, which both parents encouraged.
In 2019, the parents were notified of two upcoming hockey tournaments; the first was set to occur during the mother’s custody weekend and the second fell on the father’s access weekend. The mother confirmed to the father that this meant that each of them would be allowed to take the child to one of the tournaments on their respective weekends.
However, the father took the position that he intended to take the child to the first tournament and sent the mother emails to this effect.
Subsequent to these emails, the father’s lawyer also sent a letter to the mother’s counsel which stated:
“Kindly advise your client [the mother] that our client [the father] is taking the weekend […] to take [the daughter] to her hockey tournament.”
By the time of trial, the parents had agreed that the mother would take the daughter to the tournament.
However, the mother worried that because of the father’s unilateral action, he would exercise his Thursday access the day before the tournament and would not return the child. She wanted a police enforcement clause.
The father stated there was no need for any enforcement clause because he had never threatened to take unilateral action, and that he could be trusted to respect the court order. He claimed that he merely “requested” to take the child to the tournament.
The court rejected the father’s argument, calling his claims “disingenuous”. The court stated:
“The father didn’t “request.” His lawyer sent a letter announcing that this was the way it was going to be, take it or leave it. [I]t is quite troubling that experienced counsel would send a letter which so openly and flagrantly shows contempt for an existing court order. Counsel can request that orders be changed. But when counsel unilaterally announce that their client is changing an order whether the other party likes it or not, counsel are exposing themselves (and their client) to enormous unwanted repercussions.
I do not accept the [father]’s suggestion that he was merely “requesting.” He was acting in a heavy-handed manner and this created needless anxiety for the child who should be allowed to enjoy hockey tournaments without worrying about related conflict between parents.
I wish to make it clear to both of these parents that I am trying to send a very strong signal. Don’t engage in hard-ball tactics when it comes to parenting issues.”
As a result, the court agreed with the mother that she and the daughter both required an absolute assurance that there wouldn’t be any more uncertainty or jeopardy with respect to the hockey tournament weekend. However, the court did not agree that a police enforcement clause was appropriate in the case. It stated that the court’s goal is to protect the child and police involvement could potentially upset and therefore harm the daughter. Additionally, the court stated that police involvement in a parenting dispute would not help and witnessing a parent getting into trouble with the law could harm the child emotionally. Finally, the court stated that if a court’s objective is to prevent or discourage inappropriate parental behaviour, it must create sanctions which scare offending parents without scaring the child.
The court acknowledged that the father promised that he would return the daughter after his Thursday visit. As a result, the court refused to issue a police enforcement order, but stated that if he did fail to return the child his access would automatically be suspended pending further order, because parents need to clearly understand that unilateral withholding of a child will have severe and immediate consequences.
Finally, the court considered the mother’s request for an award of $3,000 in costs. The court granted the mother’s request, explaining:
“The [father]’s behaviour was outrageous, and falls into the “high conflict” category that we strive to discourage in this building. We can’t have parents unilaterally changing important time sharing orders, and we can’t have lawyers sending intimidating letters. […]
Unreasonable parents need to understand that hard-ball tactics can backfire in a very expensive way.”
At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (416) 777-8433 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.