The Ontario Court of Appeal has been extremely busy in 2019 dealing with the problem of what to do with teenage children who do not want to abide by the terms of a Court Order. The question of course is whether or not it is the child expressing legitimately what is in their own best interests or if they are simply the unwitting tool of a manipulative parent. Justice Shore in the Reid decision had to deal with the question of potentially forcing a 16 year old girl to live with her mother. The father had admittedly, and so had been found by the Court earlier in 2016, worked hard to alienate the child from her mother. The father now baldly stated that the child of the age 16 was now of an age whereby she could live where she chose. The child adamantly stated that she wanted to remain with her father.
Justice Shore in the Reid decision did not have the benefit of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in A.M. vs. C.H. that we discussed in two earlier blogs. Admittedly the child, despite adamantly insisting that she wished to live with her father, was found by Justice Shore attempting to be a peacemaker between her parents. Justice Shore clarifies that a 16 year old child is not absolved from following Custody Orders and cannot make their own decisions. At the age of 16, a child can withdraw from parental control, an example being set out in L.N. vs. M.R.R. a 2016 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal. As Justice Shore noted, “ that does not mean that every 16 year old can dictate whether they abide or ignore Court Orders with respect to custody and access or every 16 year old can withdraw from parental control.” The Court of Appeal debated this in G.R. vs. G.K. a 2017 decision in which they noted that “…whether the Court will follow the wishes of the child, will depend upon the age and level of maturity of the child and will be subject to the Judge’s discretion as he/she seeks to determine the child’s best interests”.
It is not open to the 16 year old to argue that she has withdrawn from parental control unless there is credible evidence of withdrawal from both parents, which is set out in L.N. v. M.R.R. Justice Shore looked at all of the evidence, including the views of the child. Justice Shore pointed out the obvious that the father had failed to meet his parental obligations and that the job of a parent is to parent.
Justice Shore quoted Justice Aiken’s decision in Stuyt. A parent does not have the option of disobeying Court Orders that he or she does not like. It is a role of a parent to abide by Court Orders until such time as the Orders have been terminated or varied through legal means. It is also the role of parents to instill in their children a respect to the law and legal institutions. The parent who does not do so, does a huge disservice to his or her child, a disservice that can have long lasting ramifications.
Wonderful and important words, but will they be absorbed by a 16 year old and her parents.