Family law disputes are often highly charged, particularly when children are involved. When cases go before a court to resolve outstanding disagreements, the court’s order is final, and binding on the parents. However, in some cases, a binding order may prompt a parent who is disappointed in the outcome to try to take matters into their own hands. This is why parental abduction is such a concern when it comes to high-conflict parenting disputes.
This issue was recently highlighted by news of an Alberta father who was convicted of abducting his daughter after his former wife was granted sole decision-making authority over issues pertaining to the daughter’s education, religious education, and medical decisions. The case highlights several issues often found in parenting disputes, although, of course, to an extreme degree. Using this case, we’ll outline several aspects of parental rights and issues affecting parenting decisions in family law matters.
The parents shared parenting time with their daughter, but the mother had been granted sole authority to make decisions with respect to the daughter’s education, religious upbringing, and other significant matters in the daughter’s life. When the daughter’s 11th birthday was approaching, the father obtained the mother’s consent to take her to Egypt and Turkey for a summer vacation at a resort. Instead, the father took his daughter to Iraq, where he had two other wives and a son. The daughter is still in Iraq, with Canadian officials asking the local Iraqui community for help locating her, so they can reunite her with her mother.
The father indicated he wanted control over his daughter’s education, including her religious upbringing and cultural exposure. However, a Canadian court had granted sole discretion over these issues to the girl’s mother instead. Parenting is divided into two subcategories under family law: time, and decision-making ability. While parents may share time with their child, as was the case here, a court might opt to assign decision-making ability to just one parent in situations where the parents are at odds with how to handle major decisions. Currently, many courts are facing this issue with respect to vaccinations, in cases where parents disagree on whether to vaccinate their child against COVID-19.
In cases where the court opts to assign this ability to just one parent, the decision is made in accordance with the child’s best interests. Presumably, the court in the case at hand felt the mother was the best person to determine these issues for her daughter at the time the order was made.
At the time, the daughter exchanged texts with her mother, indicating that her father intended to keep her in Iraq for five years, to complete her education, and learn about religion and culture. She told her mother she was afraid and wanted to return home to Canada.
Mobility is another common issue in parenting matters, when one parent expresses an interest in relocating, which would, by necessity, affect the time the child can spend with the other parent. Co-parents are not permitted to make a unilateral decision to relocate with their child. They must either have the consent of the other co-parent, or a court order permitting them to move. In addition, there are several regulations dictating the process for obtaining consent before moving. These regulations were recently updated, and we wrote about them in detail here.
The daughter initially expressed fear once she realized what was happening, and told her mother she wanted to return home. However, by the time the father’s trial took place nearly three years after the abduction, the daughter had drastically changed her position. While Canadian authorities have not been successful in locating the daughter to seek her return, she did communicate that she was happy in Iraq and wished to remain there. The mother believes the daughter has been brainwashed while out of her care.
This is an extreme example of parental alienation, which occurs when one parent manipulates their child to poison the child’s opinion of their other parent. This is a common pitfall for many parents in high-conflict separations, unfortunately. We wrote about parental alienation in greater detail here, but suffice it to say that these types of practices can have a lasting negative impact on everyone involved. Not only can alienation work against the alienating parent with respect to parenting orders, but it can also dramatically impact the family dynamic, and the child’s mental wellbeing, for a long period of time.
At Mincher Koeman, we practice family law exclusively. Our divorce lawyers have represented clients in all types of parenting matters, ranging from amicable to high conflict. We will provide each client with a full picture of their rights and obligations with respect to the custody of their child or children, and provide experienced advocacy in court if necessary. We have built our practice to ensure that each client receives first-rate client service, and will always be sure to steer clients towards the most efficient resolution of their matter, keeping costs down whenever possible. To discuss your matter with a lawyer, contact our firm by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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