Q&A By John T. Syrtash, Associate, Garfin Zeidenberg LLP, a Toronto family law lawyer for the past 39 years.
Question: Regarding Parallel Parenting as a form of shared custody in Ontario.
Parallel parenting is a form of joint decision-making on major issues, such as health, education, and religion for their child or children. With such a plan, one parent may have sole decision-making powers over health while the other has sole decision-making power over education. So, no major decisions are made jointly because the parents cannot discuss anything without arguing. Parallel Parenting can work especially well for those who don’t communicate. The parents keep everything completely separate, assign specific days to attend extra-curricular activities or school events, do not attend doctor’s appointments together, and share information minimally, mostly in writing. With high conflict, parents can be psychologically and emotionally detrimental to a child. A Parallel Parenting arrangement may help solve this issue.
Question: My daughter deals with her mother’s emotional nonsense much too frequently for an eleven-year-old girl. I’m not sure it’s normal for a mother/ex-wife to bad mouth and trash-talk her ex-husband. My daughter wants nothing more than to live with me. Is there an age when a child can decide on their own? Could a Parallel Parenting form of shared custody in Ontario that I heard about work for us?
Answer: No, there is no such age. By age 13, if a teenager moves with her feet, a court is rarely going to stop her. No statute or court has ever drawn a line in the sand because everything depends upon individual facts and the best interests of the children. And a child’s best interest first depends upon who is telling the story and secondly upon who’s listening. Even when the child tells one parent where she “wants” to live, a judge might well suspect the child is saying the same thing to the other parent. Why would a child do that? First, the child may not wish to hurt the other parent’s feelings. Second, a child may well want to manipulate the situation. It’s not unusual for a child to “play” one parent off the other.
What one child then “says,” and another parent actually “hears” can cause tremendous pain to both. For this wise reason, a child’s age is not the only legal test because the genuine wishes of a child may not be in his/her interests. It may also not lead to the best criteria to resolve parenting decisions, especially when the child doesn’t want to be asked or might be planning meticulously for a PlayStation 5. And if the 12-year-old child is immature, then the child’s wishes may be instead guided by the promise of a trip to Disney World, if properly coached.
Single Parenting is also tough: maybe child support is consistently late, and mom can’t pay the bills. Should her ill-advised bursts of frustration to the child translate into a change of residence for the child?
My strong advice: Take the pressure off the child. Sit down with your ex and start compromising for the child’s sake. If you can’t get past your mutual distrust, hatred, and anger, get help from a mediator or a therapist. I have no way of answering a parent who’s waiting for his/her child to become old enough so “that when my kid turns 12, she’s moving in with me, and that will show her mother/father.” Will such arbitrary decisions turn your daughter into a better person, a moral woman, a loving individual with a peaceful soul. Or just an entitled one. When she’s older, you want her to say, “my daddy did the right thing.”
If this reasonable approach does not work, obtain legal advice on implementing a Parallel Parenting arrangement or similar alternate arrangement.
Remember also the words of William Blake: “we become what we behold.” So set an example–lest your bitter child develops her own troubled relationships.
John Syrtash is an associate and family law lawyer with the Toronto firm of GARFIN ZEIDENBERG LLP.
John T. Syrtash B.A. (Hon.) LL. background:
Invited Speaker on Bill 78, Proposed Changes to Canada’s
Divorce Act, House
of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (November
Editor of the Syrtash Family Law Newsletter, Lexis Nexis
President of the Syrtash Spousal Support Database
Author of Religion and Culture in Canadian Family Law, Butterworths
Author A Calendar of Northern Fables, Amazon
Neither GARFIN ZEIDENBERG LLP nor John Syrtash is
liable for any consequences arising from anyone’s reliance on this material,
presented as general information and not as a legal opinion.
John T. Syrtash,
GARFIN ZEIDENBERG LLP
5255 Yonge Street, Suite 800
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M2N 6P4
Cell: (416) 886-0359
Fax: (416) 512-9992