By: Peter Kazman
Separation and/or divorce can be one of the most stressful times for both parents and children. The initial stages of a Toronto family law proceeding typically triggers serious changes to the household dynamic and a shift in the amount of time a child spends with either parent on a daily basis. While the transition and ultimate decision is made as to what the short and long term parenting schedule will be, children it can be difficult for any children involved and both parents must remember that the children come first in the eyes of the court.
When parents argue over their children following a separation, emotions are running hot and the focus can easily slip from what is the best for the children to a contest of who the better or “favorite parent” is. The animosity that can develop during custody and access battles will affect the parent’s relationship with the children and inevitably have negative effects on the children unless proper precautions are taken and legislation is followed. Part III of the Children’s Law Reform Act of Ontario states repeatedly that the best interests of the children are paramount and supersede the interests of the parents when custody and access issues arise. What this means is although one parent may believe they are the better, more stable, more reliable parent, the Judge who hears the matter will weigh the information provided by both parents to determine how the children’s best interests will be served, typically by maximizing the children’s contact with both parents (within reason). Unless there is proof of harm or threat of harm to the children, the court will not be concerned the actions of one parent that may have angered the other parent. The children’s best interest remain paramount.
This presents a dilemma for parents who are in conflict following their separation. However, the focus of both parties needs to be maintained on the children’s wellbeing. Parents should refrain whenever possible from discussing legal matters and any r negative thoughts or opinions they may hold of the other parent while they are caring for their children. If a parent fails to do so the courts do have the opportunity to directly interact with the children (section 64 of the Children’s Law Reform Act) in which case a parent’s negativity or immaturity in handling custody and access issues with the other parent could play a role in the judge’s interim or final decisions regarding which parent is best suited to primarily care for the children, and with whom the children should spend the majority of their time.
There are ways to ensure that the children’s best interest is being served in custody and access cases such as including the use of a counselor or a similar third party who is neutral to both parents, and ensuring the children’s day to day routines are continued with minimal disruptions. Depending on the age and maturity of the children, parents can also open the dialogue with their children to answer any questions the children may have regarding the change to the family dynamic, as long as direct or indirect confrontations in the presence of the children are avoided. Using these strategies and others that focus on the best interests of the children are in line with requirements of the law and will likely ease the transition through separation or divorce for the children of the relationship.