Family Lawyer John Schuman was asked the following question:
My ex wants to keep my daughter this weekend and it is my weekend. I live in Ontario and this is a court ordered agreement. What can I do about this?
A carefully drafted separation agreement, Family Court Order, or parenting plan will anticipate most things that will come up in a child’s life. But, it is not possible to anticipate everything. Things always change for children and unanticipated things creep up. Judges understand that, even when a judge has spent the time determining what custody order is in a child’s best interest. So, where parents can agree that a change to what is set out in a court order, either for once or permanently, is in a child’s best interest, then judges understand – unless a children’s aid society or the judge’s order says that no changes are allowed. In most cases, judges (and children’s aid societies) like it when parents can agree to changes to schedules, and other aspects of their children’s lives, in ways that benefit their children.
With judges preferring parents being flexible to meet their children’s best interests, the purpose of Parenting Orders, parenting plans or separation agreements is to really to set out what will happen when the parents, unfortunately, cannot agree. When parents cannot agree whether something is in a child’s best interest, the “fall back” is what is in the Court Order, parenting plan or separation agreement. Put another way, if the parents do not agree to deviate from the parenting plan, one of them cannot do so without getting a judge to change the Court Order or agreement.
When a parent asks a judge to change a Parenting Order or agreement, the judge will decide what to do based on what is in the child’s best interest. It is possible that decision is not what one, or both, parents want. Also, a parent who refused unreasonably refused to cooperate with the other parent, or denied to make changes without a good reason, may get in trouble from the judge. That parent may have to pay the other parent’s legal fees. Or, can lose custody of the child if the judge thinks the parent was trying to harm the child’s relationship with the other parent. It is always best to try to be reasonable and cooperate when it comes to parenting after separation – even when the other parent is being unreasonable.
The process for going back to court can be quite complicated, and involve several court appearances. Before going to court, it is important for a parent to gather the evidence that what they want is in the child’s best interest. All that will not be worth it for one simple change. And, it is unlikely you will get the change made or an upcoming weekend. (Note, it is best to get travel consents arranged months in advance to avoid court delays.) Parents who find that they have a lot of difficulty cooperating with the other parent and the Court Order or Parenting Plan does not resolve the issues, may want to consider using a parenting coordinator. That professional can quickly either assist with, or make, parenting decisions, such as whether a child should attend a special event on an upcoming weekend. It is important to keep a child insulated from, or losing out because of, fights between parents.
You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a further explanation of child custody and parenting legal issues by downloading this $9.99 e-book for Kindle, Kobo, or iPad/iPhone/Mac or ordering the paperback version. But, to keep out of trouble, it is always best to speak with a good family law lawyer.