MANDEL: Warring parents get rebuke from family court judge

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The exasperation of the family court judge almost leaps off the page as he basically says, “I told you so.”

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Noted Ontario Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz has once again taken his pen to admonish two warring Hamilton parents for not having the best interests of their children at heart.

“I have consistently encouraged these parties to stop focussing on their animosity toward one another, and start thinking about how much damage they are doing to their children by constantly waging high conflict warfare in family court.”

According to the ruling, the couple have been duelling over their two kids since 2014. The children are now almost 13 and 11 — and while the boy is doing well, the girl has developed serious mental health issues, including obsessive compulsive disorder in the “severe” range.

The parents were supposed to be sharing the children equally but while the son has been seeing his dad regularly, the daughter has not. For a while, she wouldn’t even leave her room at her mom’s house. She’s begun to improve with therapy and sees her mother’s family but still refuses to see her father — even over Zoom.

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So her dad went back to court insisting she immediately be placed in his care for two weeks. He also asked that his ex’s new partner not be around during any professional appointments or time-sharing exchanges.

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The mom rejected any change in their parenting arrangement — she argued that suddenly moving their child would be insensitive to her mental health issues — and insisted her new partner should not be excluded at any time.

The judge was unimpressed by them both.

“I have no idea what’s really going on right now, but I have a pretty good idea what’s been going on for about the past five or six years,” Pazaratz wrote in his recent decision. “These parents – both of them, to varying degrees and at varying times – have been waging incessant and ugly warfare, completely oblivious to the emotional impact it has been having on their children.”

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He refused to interfere with the current arrangement without independent information on how to best help these kids.

“I’m certainly not prepared to experiment with (the daughter) by suddenly forcing the almost 13-year-old to spend two solid weeks with a father she has refused to see for almost eight months.”

As for the new partner, the judge said there’d normally be no reason to exclude him.

“But this is not a pleasant, peaceful or normal family situation.”

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Given the years long “competition” between the couple for their kids’ affection, the presence of the mom’s partner when the father is there adds a needless “distraction and complication” for children torn between parents, Pazaratz said.

He ordered family reconciliation therapy, a weekly Zoom call between father and daughter, and the absence of the mother’s partner when the father is with the children. He also adjourned the dad’s motion to change or enforce the parenting schedule until they’ve completed reunification counselling.

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Pazaratz then added his final thoughts — ones he’s echoed time and again to sparring parents.

“When a child gets hurt, there is no pleasure in saying, ‘I told you so,’”  he wrote. “For years this court has been echoing warnings from professionals that these two parents have been jeopardizing the mental health of their children by relentlessly engaging in bitter and destructive litigation.”

Now it’s happened, the judge said, with their daughter suffering serious mental health issues.

“And yet, despite clear evidence that nasty litigation has significantly contributed to the child’s distress, the parents have now responded with … more nasty litigation. And they tell me they’re planning a ‘long motion’ for 2022.”

His exhausted sigh echoes through his words.

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