When will the courts terminate parenting time?
The short answer: only in rare and extreme circumstances.
Co-parenting is one of the greatest adjustments for parents following separation, and Intimate Partner Violence (“IPV”) can make it even more challenging. IPV includes physical, emotional, and financial abuse. It is natural for a parent who’s experienced IPV to be concerned for the well-being of the children while the children are with the co-parent, even if the co-parent has never been directly aggressive toward the children. Given a history of family violence, what can be done to address parenting concerns?
The Court’s response to concerns of family violence generally leans toward rehabilitation of the aggressor parent. As much as possible, and so long as it remains in the best interest of the children, the Court will focus on maintaining the relationships between the children and both parents.
So, how does the court balance family violence considerations while maintaining the parenting time or access of the other parent? One solution may be to limit contact between the parents to the greatest possible extent. Another, where there are direct concerns for the Children’s well being, is supervised parenting time. Supervised visits are generally viewed as a short-term solution, but if the alternative would mean no access whatsoever, they are often the preferred option. In the 2020 Alberta Court of Appeal decision of DAF v. SRG, 2020 ABCA 25 (“DAF”), the Court held that supervised visits were sufficient to alleviate any concerns regarding the father’s behaviour. The Court confirmed that terminating parenting time, even temporarily, should be the remedy in only rare and extreme situations.
The Court of Appeal cited the Ontario case, V.S.J. v. L.J.G., 2004 CanLII 17126(“V.S.J.”), to provide the following factors for terminating parenting time:
- Long term harassment and harmful behaviours toward the custodial parent causing that parent and the child stress and or fear;
- A history of violence; unpredictable, uncontrollable behaviour, alcohol, drug abuse which has been witnessed by the child and/or presents a risk to the child’s safety and well being;
- Extreme parental alienation which has resulted in changes of custody and, at times, no access orders to the former custodial parent;
- Ongoing severe denigration of the other parent;
- A lack of relationship or attachment between noncustodial parent and child; Neglect or abuse to a child on the access visits; and
- Wishes and preferences of older children to terminate access.
In every case canvased where the court determined termination was appropriate, more than one of the above factors were present.
In both DAF and V.S.J., the Court emphasized that the aggressor parent must accept responsibility for their actions and seek treatment for their personal issues for continuing or resumed parenting time. Furthermore, the Court in each case stressed the importance of both parents demonstrating a genuine interest in focusing on the best interests of the children.
If you are a parent who has concerns about parenting time and/or IPV and would like to discuss practical solutions that make sense in your circumstances, our lawyers at SVR Family Law would be happy to meet with you.