After a divorce, the parties need to consider the child’s best interests when co-parenting. In many situations, although not every situation, this may involve ensuring that each party has parenting time with the children as agreed upon or by court order. Generally, a parent is expected to ensure that they are facilitating rather than restricting parenting time with the other parent unless there are valid reasons. There may be cases where this may be more difficult, such as if the children want to avoid attending parenting time with one of the parents. If this issue is brought before the court, the court will need to determine if one of the parents is actively restricting parenting time or is making efforts to facilitate it with the other parent.

In this post, we will discuss what can happen when the children seemingly refuse to attend parenting time with one of the parents. As this may affect the outcome of a parenting order, the court will consider the efforts of a party in facilitating parenting time when the children appear reluctant to attend. This post will also review what evidence can show that a parent is trying to facilitate parenting time with the other parent. Finally, we will discuss a case example, AAG v. JLG, 2022 ABQB 119, in which the court found that the mother made valid efforts to facilitate the children’s parenting time with the father despite the children’s refusal to attend parenting time with the father. 

What are the factors for a parenting order?

To decide on a parenting order, the court must consider the child’s best interests, as specified by the Divorce Act, section 16(1). First, the court must consider the children’s physical, psychological, and emotional safety, security, and well-being. 

Then, the court must consider the following factors: 

  1. The nature, strength, and stability of the relationships between the child and the significant people in their life, including their relationship with their parents, siblings, and extended family; 
  2. The history of the child’s care;
  3. The child’s views and preferences, considering the child’s age and maturity; 
  4. Any family violence and its effect on the child and other parties; 
  5. The ability and willingness of each party to care for the child and to communicate and cooperate with each other.

Under s. 16(5) of the Divorce Act, the court can also consider any past conduct of the parties when making its decision. 

How will the court navigate estrangement between a child and a parent?

When a child may be estranged from one parent, the court can consider the child’s views and preferences if they are of sufficient age and maturity. The court can consider the child’s reasons for refusing to attend parenting time with a parent.

The court will also consider the parties’ willingness to cooperate when parenting the children. In particular, if there is estrangement, then the court may consider whether this was a result of the other parent’s actions. The court will look to evidence that the parent either made efforts to facilitate parenting time with the estranged parent or acted in such a way to deepen the estrangement. For example, there could be evidence that a parent influences the child to distance themselves from the other parent.

If there is estrangement, the court may order an expert report to provide recommendations on how to proceed with parenting so that the estrangement does not deepen. If there is already a report with recommendations on how to proceed, the court will give these suggestions some weight and see if the estranged parent is following these recommendations. 

In addition to a report, the court may order a parenting expert to guide the parties in navigating this situation. In some cases, reunification therapy may not necessarily assist in reconnecting the child with the parent, and the court will carefully consider the entire context before determining parenting. 

Children reluctant to have parenting time with father, despite mother facilitating parenting time 

In the AAG case, the father sought primary custody of the parties’ four children. He claimed that this was the only way to prevent estrangement between him and the children, which he alleged was facilitated by the mother. 

The children had historically lived primarily with the mother, and she was seeking to maintain this status quo as the primary parent. 

The parties had different parenting styles during the marriage. In particular, the father claimed that he was left with the role of disciplining the child, which would sometimes involve physical discipline if he found it was necessary. 

In October 2016, child services became involved regarding the father’s physical discipline, and he was to have supervised parenting time. During this time, the court found that the mother had facilitated parenting time by rearranging her work schedule to accommodate the father’s parenting time. Overall, the reports from these supervised visits indicated that the children responded positively to this parenting time. However, there were instances where the children were upset that the father did not allow them to take their items to their mother’s home. Following this, including an incident that led to harsh discipline from the father, two of the children began refusing to attend parenting time with the father. 

The mother claimed that she struggled to facilitate the father’s parenting time, as she would receive upset calls from the children during the father’s parenting time and would pick them up early on some occasions. 

By 2019, the other two children refused to attend parenting time with the father. 

The court found that both parties contributed to the estrangement, although overall, the mother did facilitate parenting time with the father. In particular, she left it open for the children to decide if they would attend the father’s parenting time and did not make it clear that she expected them to attend the father’s parenting time. She also conveyed negative messages about the father to the children and wanted them to report on what occurred during the father’s parenting time. Despite this, the court found that she did not deliberately seek to undermine the father’s relationship with the children as she made reasonable and appropriate efforts to encourage the children to attend parenting time with the father. 

The court found that the father refused to acknowledge his role in the estrangement, including blaming the mother and refusing to incorporate the expert’s recommendations on parenting. 

The mother remained the primary parent of the children. 

Contact Calgary Family Lawyers At Mincher Koeman For Assistance with Parenting Time 

There are many different ways that parties may wish to arrange parenting time, which also depends on what would be in the child’s best interests. Given that parenting time depends on the case’s specific circumstances, you should speak with our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman, who are experienced in assisting parents with parenting time. Our Calgary family law lawyers are dedicated to finding the best resolution for you and your children in your divorce case. 

To book a consultation, please contact us online or by phone at 403-910-3000

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