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Old 09-25-2008, 04:43 PM
Grover Grover is offline
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Default Mother frustrated with family court

I am writing with the hope that you can direct a woman frustrated with the Ontario Family Court to some help. There should be a committee set up to examine issues of fairness and bias, and oversight put in place to ensure that mothers and fathers do not have to go through what this mother has gone through. The names have been changed.

In 2003 Betty found that Peter was cheating on her. She was devastated but tried to keep the marriage together. It was an emotional time and she would often cry at Peter's unwillingness to discuss their marital problems. Peter began a campaign of emotional abuse and tried to convince Betty that she was mentally unstable. He kicked her out of their matrimonial house in Pickering with no warning and changed the locks. Before going to court they agreed to ask for joint custody of their daughter, but Peter surprised Betty by asking for sole custody and accusing her of being unstable and dangerous to their daughter. Peter obtained a letter from Betty's cousin who had been living with them, falsely accusing Betty of trying to harm her daughter. Note that Betty's cousin had experienced mental problems in the past and had moved from his parents' house because he could not get along with his family. Betty is considering suing her cousin for falsely accusing her, but does not want to cause problems in the extended family. Her cousin has almost no contact with his family while Betty remains close with them..

In court the judge showed a racial bias by asking Betty whether she was a citizen and whether she married Peter just to stay in Canada. She had been in Canada and a citizen since childhood. Betty later learned from others that this judge has a pattern of ruling against non-white women. Temporary custody of their daughter was granted to Peter, and Betty had supervised access on Tuesdays and every second weekend. Peter would often deny Betty her court appointed access, and would call Betty on the phone and ask her to guess where her daughter was (he denies this). Peter obtained a ruling allowing him to sell their matrimonial home without Betty's knowledge or permission and did not give Betty a share of their furniture or any other major possessions or investments.

Betty voluntarily underwent psychiatric assessments which showed that she was competent and able to care for her daughter, but Peter was not satisfied. In 2005 the Ontario Children's Lawyer (OCL) became involved and recommended that the parents share custody of their now 3 1/2 year old daughter. This did not happen for two reasons: first, Betty had an incompetent lawyer who showed up unprepared or very late and was later suspended for her handling of the case, and second, Peter said he was not satisfied with the psychiatric assessments. Peter and his lawyer asked for their hand picked psychiatrist assess Betty, a psychiatrist whom Peter knew of through a connection at work. This should not have been allowed without Peter also being assessed, and it should have been a neutral psychiatrist, but Peter's lawyer and a judge convinced Betty that this was the only way that she could get her daughter back. Betty underwent the assessment but the report was not forthcoming. The case had been adjourned pending the receipt of the report, so progress was stalled. Betty called the psychiatrist (who is well known and is often used for criminal cases) a few times but he would not provide a report. During the following 2+ years Betty had only supervised access to her daughter. Peter tormented her family by choosing which family members were acceptable to supervise, sometimes allowing only one specific family member as far as 50 km away, but changing his preferences frequently. In 2007 a judge ordered that the OCL get involved again, and Betty completed the paperwork but Peter did not and the file was closed. There was no follow-up process by the OCL after the 2005 recommendation of shared custody, and no follow-up to determine why Peter had not submitted the paperwork as ordered. This should have been a red flag but the OCL just assumed that the case had been settled. Peter defied the court orders and there were no consequences other than a delay and an increasing status quo advantage.

From 2007 through the spring of 2008 Peter's new lawyer did not respond to requests from Betty's lawyer. During this time, Betty again contacted the psychiatrist and reminded him that before her assessment she had signed a waiver acknowledging that if he found her to be a danger to herself or her child, he was obligated to report this to the police. He did not do this, and it was only at this point that the psychiatrist provided a letter stating that Peter's former lawyer had retained him and had instructed him not to prepare the report on Betty and had forbade him from communicating with Betty or her lawyer. They did not tell Betty, her lawyer or the court that they had cancelled the report. Since this was their stated criterion for determining whether Betty was fit, it should constitute contempt of court and obstruction of justice. It resulted in a 2 year delay in progress, lost time between mother and daughter and more court and legal expenses. Peter and his lawyer forced Betty into a corner and offered this additional assessment by their hand picked psychiatrist as her only opportunity to obtain joint custody and equal time with her daughter, and then when the psychiatrist was not going to support their false allegations, they suppressed the evidence.

After months of no responses from Peter's lawyer, Betty obtained a court date in May 2008 and Peter showed up with no lawyer, claiming that he didn't know where his lawyer was, and obtained yet another delay. However, Peter was ordered to obtain a lawyer and the OCL was again ordered to become involved. After showing Peter and his lawyer the letter from the psychiatrist explaining that Peter's previous lawyer had suppressed evidence, Peter agreed to drop the requirement for supervision, since there was clearly no reason for it. Both Betty and Peter submitted the forms to the OCL, but the day before Betty's interview (July 31, 2008), Peter cancelled his interview (delaying the process yet again) and said that they had a great offer for Betty. Betty did not cancel her interview. The offer contained a very small increase in time with her daughter. Betty rejected the offer and made a counter-offer for equal time which Peter rejected. Betty asked that the OCL process continue. Betty's lawyer said that even if the OCL makes a recommendation in her favour, it would probably be overruled because the status quo advantage usually wins over the OCL recommendation. What is the point of having the OCL if they are regularly overruled and when they do not follow up on their reports and argue for their recommendations?

The child who is almost 7 years old wants to spend more time with her mother and cries for her mother but her voice is being shut down. The child is happy when picked up from Peter's house and often cries when it is time to go back and asks to stay with her mother. She has been asking Peter to take her to her mother but says that he ignores her. Betty has never denied her husband access and does not want to keep her daughter from him. The child loves both parents and Betty does not believe it is right or healthy to keep her daughter from either parent. Peter however, has used false allegations and unethical and illegal means to obtain a status quo advantage. He has disobeyed court orders and it has all continued to work to his advantage.

Three weeks ago, the child told Betty, "Daddy says that if I tell Pat (the OCL investigator with changed name) that I want to see more of mommy that I'll never see him again". This sort of psychological manipulation is harmful to the child's emotional well being. She should not have to worry about such things, especially when they are blatantly false. Betty has asked her daughter what she wants. The daughter has said she wants to stay with her mother at times, and has said equal time at other times. Betty has told her daughter that she should tell Pat what she wants. Two weeks ago, the child told Betty, "Daddy met with Pat and said that he agrees with equal time, and he said that I don't have to say that I want that any more". Since no offer has been received, Betty believes that this was an attempt by Peter to convince the child not to voice a desire for any change. The child met with the OCL investigator on the weekend at Peter's house, but we don't know how the meeting went. Our visit is tomorrow.

We want an investigation to correct the lack of follow-up and the lack of consequences for unethical and illegal actions, to ensure that it does not happen to another mother or father. Betty is frustrated with the family court and doesn't know what to do. Betty did nothing wrong, she and her daughter want to spend more time together, and nobody is listening to them. At this point, we are hoping that the OCL recommends more time between mother and daughter, and that the recommendation is not overruled based on the status quo. People have told Betty to go to the media, and we have sent messages to some reporters. There is a concern that having the story appear in the media may taint the OCL or family court process, so we don't know what the best course of action is.

Betty has filed a complaint against Peter's former lawyer and is considering filing a complaint against the psychiatrist for suppressing evidence, but we doubt that this would affect the outcome of the custody dispute. We have also sent messages to Betty's MPP, other MPPs, the Attourney General of Ontario and various advocacy groups, but she has received no real help yet. The Ombudsman was suggested.

If anyone has any advice or contacts to offer that might help this mother, it would be greatly appreciated.