5 Big Lies About Shared Parenting

_DSC4179 - Version 2Canada’s MP’s will continue their debate on Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott’ s private member’s bill C-560 on shared parenting on May 27, 2014, with a vote expected to follow days later.

Recent polls from Nanos confirm that 80% of Canadians want a change in the way custodial decisions are made and the chaos in our family courts has united parents, lawyers, and judges to insist on real reforms to eliminate the soul-destroying financial and emotional devastation wreaking havoc among Canadian families who dare step a foot into the litigation pond.

So the passage of the bill should be a fait accompli, nest-ce pas? Not so fast….

It appears that both Liberals and New Democrats have changed their views on shared parenting since the 1998 Joint House of Commons/Senate Report entitled “For the Sake of the Children”, a much-heralded report commissioned during Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s tenure, where politicians of all stripes recommended that shared parenting be implemented to enable divorced parents and their children to maintain a close and continuous relationship after marriage breakdown.

That was then and this is now, and today the Conservatives alone stand to support an initiative whose time is well over due. You ask, if Canadians support shared parenting why wouldn’t their political leaders follow suit?

That puzzles me too because the psychological literature in the 1990’s regarding custody, access, and parenting was rife with findings that favoured a maternal preference, while today those old wives’ tales and custody myths have been demolished by cutting-edge, international research, such as American Dr. Richard Warshak’s 2014 treatise on shared parenting that has garnered the written support of another hundred experts in the field.

So what kool-aid are they drinking? It appears that many of the political naysayers are guzzling the views of the Canadian Bar Association, who purport to represent the views of Canada’s lawyers, who I say, have got it wrong. So what is the truth about shared parenting?

1. Shared Parenting Means Giving Up the Best Interests of the Child Test. NOT TRUE

-A rebuttable presumption of shared parenting does not abandon an examination of what is in a child’s best interests, it merely codifies the position that both parents, if fit, have a shared responsibility to parent their child.

2. Shared Parenting Focuses on Parental Rights Rather Than Children’s Rights. NOT TRUE

- Shared parenting permits children to have a real relationship with each parent, which is their right and a parent’s obligation.

3. Shared Parenting is Strictly a Men’s Rights Issue. NOT TRUE

-While men have been the primary victims of our custody laws, women are also affected as parents, grandparents, partners of parents and supporters of a fair and just system of family law. An American- based group “Leading Women for Shared Parenting” with international membership, voices women’s concerns about outdated custody assumptions.

4. Shared Parenting is Not What Children Want, They Want One Home. NOT TRUE

-Renowned American psychologist and parenting expert, Dr. Joan Kelly, dismisses the myth that kids want to live with one parent and highlights the negative consequences of one-parent homes.

5. Shared Parenting Only Works for Older Children and Teens. NOT TRUE

-Dr. Warshak’s research shows that the misguided notion that children under six-years-old are too young to have overnights with both parents has done a frightening disservice to children and parents alike.

If we had implemented the recommendations from 1998, Canada could have led the way down a path that is being adopted by multiple countries and many jurisdictions in the United States. Will we allow our lawmakers to miss the boat a second time? I hope not.

Legal Nightmare Documented in B.C. Judge’s Reasons

BarristerWhat would your life look like if you were engaged in protracted family law litigation requiring more than fifty court appearances before 28 different Judges and Masters of the Court, over a period of 15 years?

“Hell on earth” would be an apt description for Laura Koch and Graham Underhill, the divorced parents of two children who have used the British Columbia Supreme Court as their public battleground since 1997.

In reviewing Mr. Justice Grove’s Reasons (2013 BCSC 1889), several aspects of Koch v. Underhill are noteworthy. Firstly, their legal rollercoaster began with an ex parte or without notice application to the court, wherein Ms. Koch received interim custody of the children who were ages three and one. A variety of restraining orders were also put in place barring Mr. Underhill from any activity that involved his wife and children.

In numerous posts I have decried the damage done when parents go to court behind their partner’s back to obtain life-changing orders, a practice that in my opinion usually leads to ugly, soul-destroying litigation, just like it did here.

As is typical in cases such as these, a succession of court hearings quickly followed the initial ex parte hearing, resulting in a more balanced order that saw the ex parte order set aside, the interim custody order deleted, and joint guardianship ordered.

Ten months later the parties agreed to share joint custody and equal parenting of their children, but by this time they had been back to court seven more times.

Another trigger that often leads to high-conflict in family law cases are allegations of mental illness and substance abuse. In 2002 the Koch v. Underhill litigation machine wound up again resulting in orders for production of psychiatric files, medical intervention, and a change in the equal parenting arrangement, with the children ordered to live primarily with their father.

The third significant factor in this case was Mr. Underhill’s longstanding refusal to provide proper financial disclosure, a situation that is often referred to as the “cancer of matrimonial litigation”.

Mr. Justice Groves remarked that despite Mr. Underhill’s “limited” disclosure it was apparent he was a very wealthy individual, which brings up the fourth element often found in marathon family law litigation, a litigant with “deep pockets”.

Through much of the litigation Mr. Underhill was represented by counsel, while Ms. Koch acted for herself, after her resources ran dry.

The Koch/Underhill saga is a textbook treatise that shows how warring spouses/parents can ruin their lives…and for what? To win? What about their children and the psychological damage they have inflicted on them? It is shameful…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Eighteen Month Delay in Custody Decision Illustrates Glaring Problem

GEO_edited-1Just yesterday I was speaking to a group of lawyers about family law arbitration. One of the points I made was that arbitration has several advantages over court proceedings because private family law arbitrators, be they retired judges or senior family law lawyers, can be available on short notice, and most will guarantee their written reasons or “award” within 30 days after the arbitration hearing completes.

What better illustration of my recent complaints about the length of time it takes to receive written Reasons from our trial courts then the case of Madden v. Dahl 2013 BCCA 373.

Mr. Madden and Ms. Dahl lived with their two children, ages 5 and 3, in northern British Columbia. Their relationship broke down and Ms. Dahl, without notice to her partner, moved herself and the children to her parent’s home in the Okanagan, a 14-hour drive from the family home.

Mr. Madden commenced a court application for custody of the two children and the parties had a six-day trial in the Provincial Court-Family Division in March of 2011. Three months prior to the trial the parties had agreed on a two-week on/two-week off parenting schedule, which seemed to work as the children were not yet school-age.

Five months passed without a decision from the court so Mr. Madden, in contemplation of his 5-year old starting kindergarten, brought an application to the trial judge for an order of primary residence. The judge refused to hear him.

Mr. Madden took his 5-year-old to kindergarten during his two-week parenting time and during the two weeks she was with her mother she was “home schooled”.

Another year passed and still no decision from the trial judge, so the parties’ lawyers wrote a letter to the court asking for an “expedited” decision, as grade one was now beckoning. This is where I began to snicker and ponder whether counsel actually suggested that the long-awaited decision could be rationally characterized as “expedited”, albeit the situation for these parents and children in the face of apparent judicial apathy, is no laughing matter.

On September 4, 2012 the trial judge ordered that the children spend the school year with their father in year one and in year two, spend it with their mother, sharing school vacations equally, and exchanging the children on additional days, a result that would see the children miss about thirty days of school each year. The judge’s decision was bare-bones as the Reasons supporting the decision were not released until three months later.

It apparently did not occur to the judge to inquire as to the intervening circumstances, or to request updated information from the parties with respect to their children, so the court was not aware that the concept of two homes, 14 hours apart, was having disastrous effects on them.

Mr. Madden wisely appealed the trial judge’s decision to the British Columbia Supreme Court and not surprisingly, found a judge who agreed the order could not stand. The appeal judge ordered that the children reside primarily with their father in the former family home, finding that his circumstances provided the best situation for the children.

Ms. Dahl appealed the order of the Supreme Court judge to the British Columbia Court of Appeal where three additional judges also agreed that the children’s best interests favoured the father’s residence as their primary home.

It is shocking to think that a family would have to wait 18-months to get a judgment from a Provincial Court on a custody matter. It is even worse to see the apparent lack of concern about the delay, resulting in a decision that was flagrantly flawed and led to two appeals.

And one wonders why the public are disenchanted with the family justice system?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Mom Loses Custody

GEO CASUALNow that most North American courts are truly focusing on a child’s best interests, and not just slavishly awarding custody of young children to moms, many mothers are experiencing what dads have faced for decades. Life without Jimmy and Susie…

A case in point is the situation that American actress, Kelly Rutherford, found herself in after her two-year marriage to husband Daniel Giersch collapsed in 2009. Star of television’s Gossip Girl, Ms. Rutherford engaged in a lengthy, tortuous custody battle with the father of their two children, Hermes and Helena, who are now six and three-years old.

From the get-go it was as ugly as can be, with mean-spirited, nasty allegations tossed about for the Hollywood media to lap up. He asserted that her life was not focused on the kids, but on spa appointments, shopping excursions and her career, while she accused Giersch of dealing in drugs and weapons in South America.

Ultimately, Ms. Rutherford’s allegations backfired. Mr. Giersch, as a citizen of France, had no legal status in the United States and some media reported that his wife’s unproven complaints stymied any chance Giersch had of remaining in America after his visa was revoked.

At the end of the battle, Giersch was awarded custody of both children who now live with him in France. Ms. Rutherford was awarded access to her children with the proviso that she pay all the costs of visiting them in France. It is reported that to date she has made over 40 trips.

The financial aftermath of her court battle and access costs has led Ms. Rutherford to file for bankruptcy. Despite earning $486,000 a month from her work on Gossip Girl, she has virtually no assets and debt of more than $2 million dollars. The cancellation of Gossip Girl is another setback for the star.

And she has apparently not abandoned her quest for custody of the children. Having spent $1.5 million in legal and related fees, she is now living for free with friends in New York as she continues to battle her ex.

She recently remarked:

“Having to peel my son off my body, screaming, “Mama, save me!” when I had to give him to his father—not because he doesn’t love his dad, but because he’s too young and it was like a forced thing.”

While women have righteously sought gender equality for years, it may be that in this case Ms. Rutherford would rather have the old rules apply.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Guest Post: How to Find Your Perfect Divorce Lawyer

Let’s face it, most of us who commit ourselves into the bond of marriage are reluctant to think about it one day crumbling into a messy divorce, but the truth is, with today’s increasing divorce numbers, the reality is downright dismal ( in the US around 50% of all first marriages end in divorce, about 67% for second marriages and the numbers quickly rise with the number of additional marriages).

So what does this mean in terms of finding an attorney if you are among that fifty percent wanting to dissolve you marriage? Plenty!

Here are a few tips to heed if you find yourself needing someone to help you wade through the murky and unfamiliar waters of divorce.

• Before you file: Really consider the ramifications of filing for divorce. Have you exhausted every avenue before taking the steps for your divorce? Counseling and separation can be important steps to take before you make the final move.

Be very careful about moving about before the divorce, this could potentially be used against you, especially in the case of determining custody for minor children. Run a credit check for yourself, if possible get your finances in the best shape that you can. Divorce is extremely expensive and no matter the verdict, both parties will lose when it comes to finances.

Are you the non-breadwinner? You will need to take care of your personal finances as well as your healthcare, housing, cars and personal effects. A good attorney will inform you of what you should do long before you sign anything. Above all, if you can avoid divorce, then do so. Except in the cases of abuse or criminal behaviors on the part of your spouse, you should give your marriage every effort. Divorce should always be a last resort.

• Arbitration and Mediation versus litigation: The dissolution of a marriage cannot be on the same footing as breaking a business contract, though similar as seen through the eyes of the law, no one can put a price on the cost of someone’s betrayal or the lives of children of divorced parents who will forever grieve the loss of a family unit.

But there are ways to lessen the emotional trauma often association with divorce. If at all possible going through mediation services versus outright litigation will help not only with the overall costs, but will help families make choices over issues that can become quickly contentious if presided over by a non-family member or law enforcement.

Talk with your attorney; chances are if they have experience with family law and especially mediation expertise, this would make a better fit than someone hell-bent on taking on your spouse for every nickel and dime. Consider arbitration as an alternative to a lengthy, drawn-out court battle.

• Your attorney’s personal history: Find out about your attorney. Are they married? Or have they also been through a divorce, child custody battles with their own children or were they able to use their legal acumen to help minimize the trauma inflicted on all parties involved.

Sit down and talk with them about your personal feelings in regards to your spouse’s role, your custody concerns and your future. Do they really seem to be listening, adding thoughtful comments to your concerns or do you feel even more ambivalent after you leave their office?

Other than the death of a family member, going through a divorce is right there when it comes to life-altering experiences and more than ever, you will need someone who you feel confident in, someone who will stand up and defend you and fight for all rights.

A good family law lawyer will explain your rights and what you can expect with a divorce, they will not try to sugarcoat the truth about how difficult the situations will be, they will in all likelihood try to talk you out of a divorce, but if you are both in agreement about pursuing a divorce, they will be with you every step of the way.

GUEST AUTHOR NOAH KOVACS has over ten years experience in the legal field. He has since retired early and enjoys blogging about small business law, at Noah Kovacs and everything in between. He recently purchased his first cabin and spends his free time remodeling its kitchen for his family. Twitter: @NoahKovacs.

Toddler’s Death During Access Leads to Lawsuit Against Psychologist

GEO#1Prince McLeod Rams was 15 months old and on his fourth unsupervised access visit with his father, Joaquin Rams. It would be the last day of Prince’s short life, as during the three-hour visit, he drowned in his father’s bathtub.

Hospital staff became immediately suspicious when they noticed a bruise on Princes’ forehead and dried blood in his nostrils. They contacted child protective services.

It would later be discovered that Prince’s father had purchased over a half a million dollars in life insurance on his son’s life, and that he was under investigation for the murder of his former girlfriend, Shawna Mason, who was shot to death in 2003.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, who had sole custody of her son, had implored the Court to grant only supervised access to Mr. Rams. However, the Court determined that allegations that he ran an on-line pornography site, was a suspect in the death of his former girlfriend, and was also accused of raping a 19-year-old girl were unproven and speculative. Judge Michael Algeo called the allegations “smoke that’s been blowing that I can see through”.

Since being charged with Prince’s murder, the investigation into the death of Rams’ former girlfriend has gained traction and officials are also looking into the circumstances of his mother’s 2008 suicide, a death that some members of the Rams family believe was murder, not suicide. Mr. Rams received his mother’s life insurance, a benefit that rescued him from his dire financial circumstances.

Recently, Prince’s mother filed a lawsuit against psychologist Margaret Wong, who prepared a custody and access report that recommended Mr. Rams be allowed unsupervised access to Prince, expert evidence that was instrumental in the Court’s access decision.

While Ms. McLeod acknowledged that her son’s father was highly manipulative during their 18-month relationship, she suggested that a skilled psychologist, like Margaret Wong, should have detected his true character and focused on her son’s best interests, not her ex’s needs and desires.

Ms. McLeod tells the tragic story on her blog “cappucinoqueen”, while Mr. Rams writes his counterpoint at “KingLatte”. He insists he his innocent and that his son died of a seizure, however, the county medical examiner’s findings negate Mr. Rams’ allegations.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge at Mr. Rams’ trial later this year.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Family Law Lawyer Ordered to Pay Costs Personally

Practicing family law is difficult enough without having to be wary of opposing counsel’s wily tactics. One of the cardinal rules of litigation is to provide notice to opposing counsel (or to an unrepresented litigant) of any steps you intend to take in court to pursue your client’s claims. To proceed without notice, also called “ex parte”, ought to be a rarity, particularly in the emotionally charged dynamics of a family law proceeding.

Recently Toronto lawyer and former 2010 mayoralty candidate, Rocco Achampong, was handling a high-conflict custody matter that resulted in a judge ordering him to pay costs of $1200.00 to his client’s husband for “sharp practice”. Such an order is extremely rare and only made when a lawyer’s conduct has been seriously egregious.

The case started with Mr. Achampong’s client, who was living in the family home, obtaining an ex parte order for custody of her two-year-old daughter from the Ontario Court of Justice. That action resulted in her husband bringing a cross-motion for the same order, however, the parties talked through matters and decided to reconcile. All court action was terminated and the temporary custody order in favour of the mother was vacated.

Their reconciliation, however, was brief and ended after police were called to the home for an alleged incident of domestic violence. Promptly thereafter, the father brought another application to court seeking custody of his child and alleged that he and his wife had previously agreed they would share custody, but she had reneged on their oral agreement. After filing the application but before he obtained a fresh court order, he went to the child’s daycare and brought the child to his home.

This triggered a landslide of emails, letters and telephone correspondence between the parent’s respective lawyers, all of which adopted a conciliatory tone as the lawyers made efforts to resolve their clients’ problems without further court action. Different resolution options were canvassed including a 4-way meeting with clients and counsel, a mediation session, or an expedited return to court to have a judge assist.

However, while father and his counsel, Mr. Schuman believed their negotiations were bearing fruit, Mr. Achampong was hurriedly preparing court documents, while lulling opposing counsel into believing that the only issue between them was the selection of a mediator.

In the meantime, father’s counsel had obtained an expedited hearing date as well, as a back up, and delivered his application documents to Mr. Achampong.

Despite this, Mr. Achampong obtained a custody order from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, a higher court in Ontario with the same jurisdiction as the Ontario Court of Justice to make child custody orders.

He did all of this without notice to opposing counsel, and without advising the judge that a new hearing date had already been secured in the lower court. Neither did he tell the Court that as recently as that morning, he had been involved in ongoing settlement discussions with father’s counsel.

Mr. Schuman was furious with the betrayal and reported Mr. Achampong to the Law Society. His client then brought an application for costs against Mr. Achampong personally. The Court made the following observations:

“Mr. Achampong never advised Mr. Schuman that he was wasting his time in the Ontario Court of Justice since his intention was to have the case heard instead in the Superior Court of Justice. He had an obligation to do so. Even if his client instructed him to proceed in the Superior Court of Justice (likely the case) and not to immediately advise Mr. Schuman (this is unknown), he cannot hide behind the excuse of client instructions. It was his obligation to let Mr. Schuman know that he would be proceeding in a different court, so that Mr. Schuman did not prepare needlessly for a case that would be stayed.

Mr. Achampong demonstrated poor judgment in exercising his professional obligations to Mr. Schuman on October 12, 2012. It is apparent from a review of the correspondence of counsel on that day that they were discussing urgent mediation to try and resolve the temporary issues. Mr. Schuman was taking steps to expedite this process. While Mr. Achampong asked for his client to be able to speak and see the child, there was no indication that he would be immediately going to court to obtain relief. It was certainly reasonable for Mr. Schuman to believe from the correspondence that the process would be mediation first, and if the case was not adjourned, that the temporary motions about parenting arrangements would be argued on Tuesday, October 16, 2012, in the Ontario Court of Justice.”

Mr. Achampong compounded his ethical breach by arguing before the Court that he had done nothing wrong. Another lesson learned. Best to fall on one’s sword than to justify improper behavior. The costs order is miniscule compared to the embarrassment of the national publication of his breach of professional ethics.

My guess is that in his zeal to have his client’s child returned, he forgot about his professional obligations as an officer of the court. In my view, no client’s case is worth a breach of ethical standards.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Ten Signs Your Divorce is “Off the Rails”

Don’t we all like to think that if divorce was in our future, our uncoupling would be civilized, respectful and rational. For many divorcing spouses it can be that way, particularly where there are no children and minimal assets, however, all the best intentions for an amicable parting can quickly dissipate once spouses abandon the high-road for the ditch.

If you are involved in a so-called “amicable divorce”, are there identifiable signs that signal your divorce may be meandering to the low-road? Of course, there are. Be aware of the following:

1. YOU HAVE A NEW PARTNER Often amicable divorces remain that way until a husband begins a serious relationship with a new lady. One of the easiest ways to have your divorce come “off the rails” is to flaunt a new paramour, before your wife is emotionally ready, which in some cases is never.

2. YOU DECIDE TO CLOSE THE CREDIT CARD ACCOUNTS It is not uncommon for husbands to maintain the financial status quo until they realize their separated spouses’ credit card spending is three times the pre-separation amount. Delicacy is required to rein in the spending, without ruining the convivial settlement discussions. A useful strategy is to terminate all major credit cards except one, which remains available to your spouse, albeit with a much lower credit facility. This can only be done with advance notice to your spouse.

3. YOU TAKE THE CHILDREN ON A VACATION WITH YOUR NEW “FRIEND” You have pleasant post-separation discussions and agree on summer vacation access with your kids, but fail to tell your wife you will be bringing along your 25-year-old girlfriend. Surprises are always dangerous. You are better off to advise your spouse in advance and find a compromise if she adamantly opposes the extra company. Perhaps the girlfriend only visits for a couple of nights or not at all?

4. YOUR WIFE FINDS YOUR PRE-SEPARATION CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS WITH JEWELLERY PURCHASES SHE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT The divorce process always involves the exchange of financial information, including credit card statements. If your wife finds purchases from Tiffany’s or Birk’s, made before the separation and she is not the recipient, watch out. Still worse, are cancelled cheques on your joint account confirming you were paying your girlfriend’s rent before you and your spouse separated.

5. YOUR WIFE FINDS OUT YOU WERE SLEEPING WITH THE NANNY IN THE MARITAL BED The marriage is now over but your wife learns from reliable sources that you were sleeping with the children’s nanny during the marriage. This is a sure-fire way to generate anger and humiliation in your wife, something that usually gets in the way of future courteous communication.

6. YOUR WIFE LEARNS THAT THE “SMALL” MORTGAGE ON THE FAMILY HOME EATS UP OVER HALF OF THE HOME EQUITY Your secret financial dealings during the marriage are now exposed and your wife is shocked to learn that what she thought was a $100,000 mortgage on the family residence is actually $250,000 as a result of undisclosed stock investments made with borrowed monies. It’s even worse if the stock is now worth considerably less or nothing at all.

7. YOU ADVISE YOUR SPOUSE THAT YOU WILL NEVER GIVE UP CUSTODY OF THE FAMILY PET You think everything is settled and leave the conversation about Muffy and Fido to the end, only to realize that neither of you will give up the family pet. Yes, judges now also decide who gets custody of the cat and dog, where the parties cannot agree. This issue can be a deal-breaker.

8. YOU GRADUALLY CANCEL MANY OF YOUR ACCESS VISITS WITH YOUR CHILDREN You tell your spouse you want to remain an active, involved parent, but your weekly visits are now monthly visits and you have failed to show up for some of your visits, leaving your children crying and your ex seething.

9. YOUR SPOUSE MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO SEE THE CHILDREN Parenting time starts off well but disintegrates when your spouse realizes her financial expectations are unrealistically inflated and she now needs leverage to obtain a better financial outcome. What better pawn than the children?

10. YOU TELL YOUR STAY-AT-HOME SPOUSE YOU WILL QUIT YOUR JOB BEFORE YOU EVER PAY HER SPOUSAL SUPPORT You are usually a traditional husband who has no problem paying child support, but believes a 50-year-old wife who worked as a bank teller twenty years ago, should immediately find full-time employment because the children are all in school. What else is she going to do all day?

Negotiating a reasonable divorce settlement can be a minefield if a spouse is not aware of the dangerous trigger points that invite hostility, embarrassment or distrust. A strategic family law lawyer is one who can assist you to manoeuvre the settlement terrain without stepping on a divorce landmine.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Four Reasons Why BC’s New Family Law Act is Good for Fathers

British Columbia’s new family laws will be in effect on March 18, 2013. For husbands and fathers who have felt victimized and exploited by the Family Relations Act 1979, there is every reason to be optimistic that the new law will assist them to achieve the fairness and equality they have been fighting for.

The first bit of good news is that effective March 13, 2012 the new law will apply to everyone, even if they commenced a family law proceeding under the current Family Relations Act that has not yet been concluded, with one exception. Property claims made under the old Act will be governed by that legislation, unless both parties agree that the new law should be applied.

The changes in law that will assist fathers include:

1. Pejorative terminology is removed:

The language of “custody” and “access” used in the current legislation left many parents feeling marginalized and overlooked as fully contributing parents who provided value to their children’s lives. These terms also connoted an “I win, you lose” philosophy. The language of the new Family Law Act is “parenting time” and “contact”, words that do not imply ownership of children by one parent to the exclusion of the other.

2. Endless court applications regarding children can be avoided:

For fathers who are constantly struggling to see their children regularly, or have a vacation with their child, or obtain their child’s passport for travel, or the dozens of other irritants that require fathers to go back to court, the new law has introduced and codified the role of a Parenting Coordinator. This person, who may be a counselor or a lawyer, will be empowered under the law to make binding decisions with regards to parenting issues, with the criteria being “the best interests of the child only”.

3. Informal parenting arrangements will be respected:

In scenarios where a father and mother have recently separated and have worked out a voluntary parenting plan, one parent cannot unilaterally change the plan. What often occurs is the parties will agree to a particular schedule, but when mom learns about dad’s new girlfriend, or is angry over some event involving dad, it is not uncommon for mother to unilaterally impede the regularly scheduled parenting time of the father. This new law forbids this kind of unilateral action.

4. Denial of parenting time will be treated seriously:

One of the most common complaints from fathers in high conflict marriage breakdown is the capricious, unreasonable denial of parenting time as punishment for the parties’ separation, even when the separation was requested by the mother.

The new law recognizes the importance of a father’s time with his children and will take serious steps to enforce parenting time. The key is that a father must complain to the court within 12 months of the access denial. In those circumstances the court may order compensatory parenting time to make up for the time denied. The court can also order a denying parent to go to counseling, pay a $5000.00 fine or reimburse the father for all of his expenses including travel expenses, lost wages and child care expenses incurred as a result of the refusal to comply with the informal parenting arrangement or the terms of any agreement or court order.

In my view the government has enacted new law that is meant to assist parents who do not want to be excised from their children’s lives. The important matter now is that the public be educated as to the upcoming changes so they can improve their relationships with their children.

A final note: there are many mothers who do not conduct themselves in ways described above, but when they do the emotional and financial damage to the family is devastating and destructive, both for the parents and the children.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

4 of the Sleaziest Child Abduction Tactics

Make no mistake about it. Parents who kidnap their children are self-centred, controlling, and high-handed. The very act of surreptitiously spiriting a child away from his or her home and primary parent requires a callous indifference to principles of common decency, a lack of respect for authority, and an ignorance of or a blatant disregard for the harm a child suffers.

An international treaty called the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction exists to assist parents to locate children who have been kidnapped by their other parent. However, for the Convention to work, the country from where the child has been abducted and the country where the child has been taken, must both be signatories to the Convention.

Eighty-six countries have signed the Convention, although some governments give only lip service to the enforcement powers of this law. Where the Convention does not apply, the journey to affect a child’s return is much more onerous.

As a lawyer who frequently represents the “left-behind” parent, the tricks and tactics employed by parent abductors are best described as “sleazy”. Consider these four scenarios drawn from recent court cases in Vancouver, British Columbia:

1. You Can Trust Me, Honest

In this case the child’s mother feared that her estranged husband would abduct their young son, but had no concrete proof, just her well-honed mother’s intuition. The child’s father picked up his son to take him to the zoo for an outing. When he arrived to pick up his son, he assuaged his wife’s concerns by making a show of cutting up his son’s passport in front of her to convince her he would never remove his son from their country of residence and now, he had no passport for the child to travel internationally.

Of course, it was all a ruse. Instead of going to the zoo, the father took his son to the airport and flew to Canada. The passport he had destroyed was the child’s expired passport. He used the child’s new passport to board the plane.

2. I Have a Travel Authorization

In these post-9/11 days, it is impossible to travel internationally without a passport and for a person travelling alone with a child it is de rigueur to also have a travel authorization signed by the child’s other parent.

The authorization typically indicates who the child is, who the parents are, where the child will be travelling, and when the child is expected to be returned to his home country or state.

In the underground world of child abduction forged travel authorizations are the rule, not the exception.

In a recent case, a mother who fled with her daughter from Japan to Canada used a legitimate travel authorization she had retained from an earlier trip, played around with white-out, added a paragraph that said she had permission from her estranged spouse to enroll the child in school in Canada and did just that.

The young girl’s father hired a lawyer in Vancouver to go to Court to obtain an order that the child be returned to Japan. The child’s mother waved her travel authorization in front of the judge and argued she had her husband’s consent.

The only problem was that the authorization had obviously been tampered with and the mother signed her husband’s name on the authorization in Japanese characters, rather than in English, which was how he usually signed his name.

3. Catch Me if You Can

In a case from Tennessee, a 12-year-old girl who was in her father’s custody was kidnapped by her mother. The child’s father was a state police officer and had country-wide connections as a member of the “thin-blue-line”.

Luckier than most left-behind parents, the father obtained intelligence that his daughter and ex-wife were travelling across North America, staying in “safe houses” known only to women who go underground with their children.

After many months of searching for his daughter, this father received information that mother and daughter were in Vancouver and would be attending at Immigration Canada offices in Vancouver to advance their claims for refugee status. The information even included the date and time of the refugee hearing.

The father had a custody order from Tennessee that was used to obtain a custody order in favour of the father in Vancouver and an order the child’s mother be arrested and the child taken to the Ministry of Family and Children, until she was returned to her home.

At the appointed time, I showed up at the refugee office with three strapping Vancouver Police officers in tow. Mom was arrested but bailed out and her daughter was picked up by her paternal grandfather.

The flight to Tennessee was delayed, however, when someone called in a bomb threat related to the girl’s flight. That was mother’s last trick.

Did this case have a happy ending? Unfortunately not, because the young girl, now 14-years-old, stayed in Tennessee for about two months and then disappeared.

4. Talk to Me

In another case, a young boy was abducted from Mexico and ended up in Vancouver. The left-behind parent once again hired a Vancouver lawyer to seek the return of her son. Pending a court hearing to deal with the matter, the child’s mother obtained a court order allowing her to telephone her son each evening to speak with him.

The boy’s father was incensed and made the nightly telephone calls very difficult for his wife. When he saw that he was losing ground and his case looked dismal, he pulled a fast one. He fled Vancouver to parts unknown but to fool his son’s mother, he recorded his son’s voice on an answering machine so that when his mother called she would be lulled into thinking he was still in Vancouver.

These scenarios are but a smattering of the lengths some parents will go to avoid justice. It’s not that these parents don’t understand the collateral damage to their children, they simply don’t care. Life is all about their needs.

Parental child abduction is the worst kind of child abuse and parents who run with their children should be subject to criminal charges and imprisonment.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang