TORONTO — A new Canadian divorce law is changing the way judges in family courts decide parenting disputes — with some legal experts saying one Ontario case shows how a push to involve both parents in raising children may leave other considerations behind.
That struggle is on display in an Ottawa courtroom, where an order by a Superior Court Justice may illustrate the hazards of prioritizing both parents’ involvement in raising a child over many other issues, even potential safety concerns.
“Parental investment by both parents is very good for the kids,” said Rebecca Bromwich, an adjunct professor with Carleton University’s department of law and legal studies.
“When we prioritize the children’s best interest, sometimes what gets left behind and where there is a fundamental tension is where there has been violence or there has been an allegation of violence between the spouses,” she said.
A judgment by Justice Julie Audet explains the situation of a Canadian model, and a Russian businessman described in the decision as having “unlimited financial resources.”
They met in New York, and lived in various locations around the world, settling most recently in Dubai with their two-year-old daughter.
According to the court judgment, in December 2020, the mother alleged “that the father was abusive towards her, including financially and emotionally, and that on the day she left Dubai with the child, the father had brutally beaten her, dragging her along a dirt road in a remote resort…”
The father denied that and alleged it was the mother “…who was physically abusive that night, and that the mother assaulted his adult daughter while in a state of intoxication.”
The mother fled with the child to Ontario. The father attempted to come here to visit with his child, but was denied a visa, the judgment says.
The justice decided that if the father couldn’t come to Canada, she would get him needed in person time with his daughter another way: she ordered them to go for four weeks to the Six Senses resort in Turkey together.
The father had originally asked for the visit to be for 3 months at this resort, where the family had previously stayed.
She ordered that the mother could take another member of her family to the resort, their travel documents would be secured, and the father would put up a $200,000 bond among other terms, as insurance the child wouldn’t be wrongly retained in Turkey, or abducted to Dubai — concerns that had been raised by the mother.
The judge indicates that “with very stringent safeguards to ensure the father’s compliance with this court order, the alleged risks of abduction are sufficiently mitigated to give me confidence that [the child] will be safely returned to Canada at the end of her stay in Turkey.”
The judge also noted in the judgment that Turkey is a signatory to the Hague Child Abduction Convention, whereas the UAE was not.
Gemma Broderick of the Durham Rape Crisis Centre said no woman should be forced to spend time with an alleged abuser.
“I think we have to believe survivors,” Broderick said.
The father’s lawyer told CTV News that his client will follow the court order and the mother and daughter will be returned to Canada safely.
The mother’s family says they’re looking for help to appeal, with a deadline of Monday.
Denise Whitehead of the University of Waterloo said that while the case involves travel, international borders, and a lot of money, it’s reflective of the issues that judges are wrestling with in many family law cases.
She said the new Divorce Act, which came into force this year, was built to prioritize the well-being of the child and aims to minimize costly legal battles in bitter internecine disputes.
“Children’s best interest should always be central. But that’s not always easy,” Whitehead said.