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Family break-up does not have to be this bad…poor children

By | - February 6, 2018

Steve Benmor is a recognized divorce lawyer, family mediator, arbitrator, speaker, writer and educator. Mr. Benmor has worked as lead counsel in many divorce trials, held many leadership positions in the legal community and has been regularly interviewed on television, radio and in newspapers as an expert in Family Law.

The case of Valettas v. Chrissanthakopoulos [2014] O.J. No. 4835 is a reminder of the clients we serve and how anger, hurt and distrust can cause irreparable damage to everyone including the parents and the children.  Lawyers need to be especially trained, attentive and engaged in these high conflict cases to avoid calamitous outcomes.

In this case, the father applied to court to find the mother in contempt of the court order that directed her to follow a parenting plan, to work with a parenting coordinator and to use a website for child-related communication.

The parties were married for 19 years and.

The children were 15, 12 and 12.

The mother was extremely angry when the father separated from her. In 2010, a judge found that she was “on a path of possible parental alienation of the children from their father”.  A custody assessor recommended that the father agree to therapeutic access with the children. But it wasn’t until 2 years later that a counsellor was appointed. Eight months later, the mother terminated counselling. Another order was made compelling the mother to follow a staged plan for access, work with a re-integration counsellor and use a website to facilitate access and to keep the father informed of the children’s activities.

After some hiccups, the parties had completed phase one of the parenting plan and the parenting coordinator was ready to determine whether the family could proceed to phase two of the plan, which involved unsupervised access. The mother failed to respond to the counsellor’s requests to meet, failed to pay her share of the parenting coordinator’s fees and failed to register on the website. The mother provided a number of excuses to the court.

In the end (is there ever an end?), the judge ruled that the mother was in contempt of the court orders. The judge stated:

“The mother’s explanations for her conduct “were a transparent effort to avoid accountability for a pattern of conduct calculated to undermine the father’s efforts to repair his relationship with the children and reintegrate into their lives. The father’s inability to exercise access to the children could not be attributed entirely to the mother, but the children’s repeated refusal to engage with the father reflected their exposure to her anger. The mother had not responded consistently or in a timely manner to the father’s, the counsellor’s or the parenting coordinator’s emails and her failure to register on the website undermined the parenting coordinator’s effectiveness and was a deliberate attempted to undermine the father’s efforts to repair his relationship with the children.”

The judge ordered the father to have immediate access to the children every Tuesday and Saturday, to pay the mother’s share of the parenting coordinator’s retainer, which was to be deducted from the spousal support he was required to pay her, and ordered the mother to work with a new counsellor and to register with the website.

Is this the last court order in this case ?

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