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An Ontario court recently assessed a motion filed by a father seeking to prevent the mother of his children from moving into a different school district. The court declined to make the order, noting that they did not want to restrict the mother’s ability to find affordable housing.
The parties met in Indonesia in 1997 and married in 1999. They ultimately separated in May 2016.
The couple had two children who were 13 (Grade 8) and 6 (Grade 1)at the time of the motion hearing. Since the parties’ separation, the children have lived with their mother and paternal aunt in North Gower, Ontario (a suburb of Ottawa). Both children attend elementary school in a nearby community.
The family had a history with the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society (CAS), who became involved when a community professional reported a concern about possible domestic abuse in the home. A subsequent report was received by the CAS after the father attended the children’s school in June 2016 and threatened to kill himself. The CAS investigation concluded that the children had been exposed to domestic violence and were at risk of emotional harm. For some time, the CAS facilitated access between the father and the children and also recommended addiction counselling and other counselling for the father and counselling for the older child to address the abusive and controlling behaviours that the child had witnessed.
The CAS closed their file in November 2016 after being satisfied that the mother had taken the necessary steps to protect the children and engage the appropriate community services for them.
The Motion Restricting the Mother from Moving to New School District
The father filed a motion seeking an order prohibiting the mother from moving the children outside of their current school catchment area. The father argued that the older child was doing well in the new school and that the father was worried that moving again would compromise his son’s ability to establish long-term friendships.
The mother argued that she did not want to be restricted to that particular school catchment area, wanting to move back to the Ottawa area to be closer to her work. She noted that she would not be able to make any decisions until the matrimonial home was sold, as she would not be able to otherwise assess her housing options.
The Children’s Position
In support of his position, the father relied on an email from the older son in which he indicated, among other things, his wish to remain in his current school.
The mother argued that the older son had been pressured by his father to write the email, and that it did not reflect his vocabulary or writing style.
The Court’s Commentary
The court noted that the older son’s email could be seen in one of two ways: it was either an indication of his wishes, or it was a sign that the older son was continuing to experience pressure from his father. The court concluded that the evidence suggested that the email had been written in response to a request by the father, and that it was not written of the older son’s free will.
The court further noted that the father’s request to keep the children in their current school catchment area would be more persuasive if the school they were at was the school they had always attended. However, that was not the case. The couple’s matrimonial home was in Barrhaven (a different suburb of Ottawa). It had been the father’s refusal to move out of the matrimonial home and to permit the mother and the children to remain there that caused them to move to North Gower and forced them to change schools.
The court went on to say:
For [the father] to now argue that the children must stay where they are in the interests of stability and building long term friendships seems more than a bit disingenuous.
The court concluded that it was not practical or necessary to require the mother to keep the children in their current school zone and declined to make that order, stating that placing a geographical restriction on the mother might complicate her ability to secure affordable housing for herself and the children, which would not be consistent with the children’s best interests.
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