Supervised parenting can be helpful for re-introducing a child to a parent who has had less of a presence in their lives. In many circumstances, the court may also find it beneficial to have both parents play a role in the child’s life. However, in a recent Alberta Provincial Court decision, Dupuis v Berens, 2022 ABPC 194, the court denied an estranged father supervised contact. This case provides insight into circumstances where a court may deny an estranged parent’s contact, even if it is supervised.
In this article, we will outline the facts of the case, explore why the court refused to grant the father supervised contact with the child, and discuss key takeaways for parents who may want to re-establish contact with a child.
The two parties of this case were the biological parents of the child, who was seven years old at the time of trial. The parties began their relationship as teenagers. The mother gave birth to the child when she was 15, and the father was 18. Their relationship ended the year that the child was born. During the time that the parties were still in a relationship, the father had limited contact with the child. This pattern of limited contact continued until 2018, approximately three years after the child was born and two and a half years since his last contact with the child.
During the early years of the child’s life, the father had struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues, including being diagnosed with epilepsy in or about 2017. As a result, he was absent from the child’s life and did not provide any support, whether financial or otherwise, to the mother.
The parties had an existing Consent Contact Order, which provided two hours of contact between the father and child, supervised by an independent, professionally-staffed third-party supervision service provider, PACE. However, the services of PACE were not used, as the parties preferred to arrange contact with family members as supervisors. The amount of supervised contact was extended to 3 hours, then 3.5 hours from 2019 to 2020.
After the Contact Order was granted, the visits would occur at a local park or children’s play facility. The father argued that his ability to develop his relationship with the child was negatively impacted by the presence of the mother or family members who supervised the visits, as the child primarily interacts with the mother, family member, or other children at the park, but not the father.
The father sought to vary the Contact Order to expand his time with the child with an independent third-party supervisor such as PACE. However, he had not used PACE’s services and never contacted them to make visit arrangements.
The mother’s evidence was that the presence of family members rather than a third-party supervisor would ease the father’s discomfort and that her presence would also provide comfort and support to the child. The mother and the grandmother primarily supervised the visits. The father’s mother had only supervised a few times, although not recently, and his sister had never supervised visits.
Also, the mother noted that during visits, the father made few efforts to interact with the child, such as approaching her, speaking with her, or playing with her. According to the mother, many visits were cancelled by the father or ended early at his request, although the mother tried to reschedule these visits. The father provided evidence that his cancellations were due to his health problems and transportation issues. The mother noted that he only used approximately 16% of the time available under the Contact Order.
The court noted that the visits were especially challenging due to the father’s health issues and inability to engage with the child, as he receives little support from the mother or grandmother (although there is no expectation that they are obligated to do so), or from his own family members. However, the court also remarked that it is the father’s responsibility to develop his relationship with the child, and his efforts have not been significant.
The court was concerned that if PACE acted as supervisor, the child would be introduced to a stranger, the supervisor, then to the father, to whom the child experiences anxiety and discomfort.
Also, while the child was too young in this case for the court to consider her views, the judge noted that the child was exhibiting anxiety due to the visits, which has not led to positive experiences and does not appear to be improving the relationship.
There was no evidence that PACE’s program was designed to re-introduce children to estranged parents, even though the court recognized that it could be suitable where the child already has a bond with the parent.
While the court suggested that there may be a potential benefit for re-introducing the father into the child’s life, the relationship was not improving despite the visits. Considering the child’s best interests, it was not appropriate to grant supervised parenting, as the process was “disruptive and anxiety-producing for the child.”
Ultimately, the court terminated the Contact Order.
For estranged parents who are attempting to re-establish a relationship with their child, one should consider the following:
Being estranged from a child is a difficult process. Our empathetic and dedicated family lawyers are committed to assisting parents in re-establishing their relationship with their children. We are experienced in helping parties find the best resolution to parenting disputes.
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