Separated Parents Must Do More Than ‘Encourage’ Teen to See Other Parent

August 11th, 2015 by

By Ivan Merrow

According to a recent Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) decision, separated parents must do more than “encourage” children to visit their other parent when an access order is in place. Otherwise, they may be held in contempt for willfully disobeying an access order. This decision may provide clearer guidance for parents, but fails to specify how far parents need to go to force unwilling adolescents to meet their access obligations.

In the ONCA’s August 4, 2015 decision Goddard v. Goddard, the appellant mother and respondent father had a custody and access order in place. The mother decided that once her daughter turned 12, her daughter was old enough to decide whether she still wanted to see her father.

The father brought a motion to hold the mother in contempt for failing to honour the access order previously granted by a judge. In the father’s view, the mother was not doing enough to get his daughter to see him. The motions judge agreed and held the mother in contempt. The mother appealed the contempt order.

The ONCA upheld the original motion judge’s decision that the mother had not done everything she reasonably could to get their daughter to honour the access order. The judges held that “parents were not required to do the impossible… to avoid a contempt ruling,” but were “required to do all that they reasonably can.”

What does this mean? The ONCA expanded by writing that parents must “take concrete measures to apply normal parental authority to have the child comply with the access order.” The three judges used a helpful example: it’s reasonable to expect parents to use similar techniques they’d use to get an unwilling child to the dentist or to school. In other words, parents are expected to do what they normally do when their child does not want to do something.

Beyond that guidance, the ONCA does not specify what may be considered “normal.” The judgment also does not say when it may be appropriate to leave the decision up to an older child or teenager. Until further guidance from the court arrives, parents with children or young teenagers who do not wish to meet access obligations may wish to speak with a family law lawyer. If you have any questions about the issues raised in this article, please contact the family lawyers at Devry Smith Frank LLP.

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