After separation, it can be difficult to maintain cooperative co-parenting when the parties cannot make joint decisions over the child’s health, education, where they reside, etc. Even when both parents can look out for the child’s best interests, there may be disagreement on how this is to be achieved. However, one party may need to make the final decision at some point, with some conditions to ensure the other parent’s input.
This article will discuss the recent case, Li v. Runoh, 2022 ABKB 669, which involves a high conflict between two parents of a young child. The court attempts to strike a balance between the parties regarding parental decision-making when considering the child’s best interests.
We review the key takeaways from this case, which may be helpful in circumstances involving high conflict between parents, despite both being capable of properly caring for the child.
In the Li case, the 5-year-old child lived with the mother. The father’s parenting time for the last few years had been supervised with the child for 1 hour on three weekdays and four hours on either Saturday or Sunday. In the parties’ most recent court order, the father was granted a bimonthly arrangement in which he would have time with the child every other weekend (“on week”) and intermittent parenting time during the week when he did not have the child for that weekend (“off week”).
The father had the following concerns about the child:
The father was concerned that the mother would not involve him in raising their child. He alleged that she was alienating the child from him, as she would prevent and undermine his parenting time.
The mother’s position was that she had cared for the child since birth and therefore was better suited to meeting the child’s needs and providing a stable home. She also stated that she supported and would be able to facilitate the father’s relationship with the child. However, she also raised concerns that the father did not properly supervise, protect and respond to the child’s needs during his parenting time. She remained open to a shared parenting regime once the child was older and the father’s work schedule became more stable.
The court accepted the mother’s evidence that she informed the father of significant decisions concerning the child, including immunizations, test results, daycare and kindergarten enrollment, and extracurricular activities. The court also found that the father had made unilateral decisions regarding the child, despite not having primary care or decision-making for the child. For instance, he took the child to several medical appointments without the knowledge or consent of the mother. The court highlighted the concern over the father’s behaviour:
The Father made unilateral decisions regarding the Child even though he had neither primary care nor decision-making for the Child. He did so without consultation or agreement from the Mother. Further, taking the Child to a myriad of medical professionals for unfounded health complaints is not in the Child’s best interest. This is very troubling behaviour and must cease.
The court did note, however, that the mother largely rejected any input from the father regarding the child’s care, though she would inform him of her decisions afterward. The court noted the possibility that the mother would limit the father’s involvement and marginalize their relationship. However, she was also sympathetic to her concerns about the father unilaterally arranging appointments for the child.
The court in Li noted that it was generally inappropriate to order joint decision-making in high-conflict parenting cases where the parties could not communicate or cooperate.
To strike a balance between the parties’ concerns, the court ordered the following:
When going through a divorce, each parent may have ideas of what is in the child’s best interests, especially regarding health, education, extracurriculars, and more. Both may be capable parents but cannot agree on decisions for the child. Our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman are experienced in representing parties in high-conflict cases involving parenting time and decision-making. Our Calgary family law lawyers are dedicated to finding the best resolution for your case.
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