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Representing myself for the first time - Custody & Access

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  • Representing myself for the first time - Custody & Access

    Hi all,

    I'm a 35 year old mother of a 2 year old boy. His father and I were married about 5 years, living in Edmonton and split at the end of July. We were foolish and decided to live in the same house while we were separating (negotiating our separation agreement and filing for divorce) and around the month of October, the strain became too much and he steadily became more nervous, angry and paranoid. He sometimes yelled at me in front of our son and even raised his hand to slap me in front of him too. In the end, he threatened my life and that of his own (saying it'd be much easier shooting me and then himself). The RCMP charged him with uttering threats and unregistered firearms possession and told him to stay away from the home. They also instructed me to have no contact with him (his bail conditions stipulated that he was to have no direct or indirect contact with me). I stepped up my plans to move home (Southwestern Ontario) and that I did.

    I received an email from his lawyer about 3.5 weeks after my move. She was directing me to make contact with her so that access to his son could be arranged. I found my own lawyer and we began discussions with his side, and not a lot of progress was made over the many months until now. Basically, it's been a lot of negotiating, to which nothing has been agreed. I have allowed him to see his son every other weekend, because that was one of the things we agreed upon, though he wants to see him more often during the weekdays too. He's paid me the table amounts (on his own accord) for child support, but he's not paid any daycare fees (section 7 expenses) whatsoever.

    I've parted ways with my lawyer, mainly because he made it clear that he doesn't want to do the work required while working for legal aid wages, so I'm going it alone for now, though it doesn't seem so daunting. While we were negotiating with our lawyers, my ex had filed a petition to the courts for shared custody and a generous amount of access (every other weekend plus every mon, wed and fri for 3 hours on those evenings). We answered with every other weekend as well as every wednesday for an overnight.

    The last round of negotiating ended up sour, We told them that we'd like to have the matter heard in court, so now we've received notice for an early case conference. My question stems from this. I've read online that this is basically just a 15 minute meeting before a judge to go over the details on what is being asked for in the petition, and to also determine if there are any details which should be decided now, if there is an urgency. I know my ex will be asking for interim access to be determined, and I'm prepared to answer why status quo should be futhered:

    My son shows signs of severe stress (he scratches when he's stressed or nervous) and every time he comes back from his father's, he's covered in scratches and has open sores from this. He's also always returned very dirty (clothes, face, hands) and sometimes hasn't been fed. Also, my ex smokes, and is doing this in the presence of my son. I know, not illegal or anything, but it's got to be damned immoral. He was given all kinds of info about my son's schedule and diet, but even when my son was sick with flu, he was fed pizza (I had to clean this up after the vomiting when he got home). Basically, I think I can demonstrate that even status quo is mildly distressing to my son and a change to increase the access would likely have a detrimental effect on him. I believe I can also demonstrate that my ex doesn't always have my son's best interests at heart.

    I have detailed logs (I write down everything) of the exchanges and the state of my son upon return to my care, so I'm hoping this would show some credibility on my part, and I've taken pictures of my concerns also. I am going to seek help from a physician regarding the scratching and such, and hope to get in to see a phsychologist. Does anyone have experience with this? I really want care for my child, I don't like him going through this, but I also think that a note from my doctor or a letter from a psychologist would further my cause in court.

    I'm BRAND new to court procedures, so if anyone has any advice for the early case conference, what comes after this or representing myself in court, I'd sure appreciate it. Thanks for any and all replies, I'm confident but nervous as heck at the same time!


    PS: My ex's case was dropped by the prosecutor out west, so now there's nothing keeping him from me and keeping me safe. I want to get a restraining order but have never done this. Any help on this also would be appreciated. And can I mention his charges (even though they've been dropped) in the proceedings moving forward?

  • #2
    You're not going to get very far in your 15 minutes at court without objective third party support making claims about dietary, smoking, hygenic and stress issues. I don't think a doctor/psychologist is going to go out on a limb and blame your ex for these behaviours in writing based solely on what you tell him/her.

    The court will probably refer you both to counselling and/or parenting classes as the court is busy enough dealing with financial and custody/acess issues.

    You're best bet is to work together with your ex to try and get some common objectives for raising the child.

    You are best to play up your strengths in parenting the child and not spend time running his parenting down.

    You're not going to like what I have to say here, but saying "I have allowed him to see his son every other weekend..." smacks of a sense or entitlement to a superior position as to raising the child. You need to remember that until ordered or agreed otherwise you two have joint custody of the child.

    That you moved home in the aftermath of the trouble that happened in Edmonton may have been necessary for you in the circumstances, but not best for your child. I'm not going to let the criminal charges influence my opinion one tiny bit as to how the children's best interests should be attended.

    Your child needs his Dad. He also needs the two of you to work together in face of all adversity to give your boy the best chance to thrive. For a child to thrive, the research is clear that two things are extremely important:

    1)The child must be shielded from conflict between the parents
    2)The child must have lots of access with both parents

    You can argue six ways to Easter Sunday why the status quo should not be upset, and you will likely be successful in court since you have run to Ontario and set up a defacto custody situation, and the Dad has been stigmatized, rightly or wrongly, by criminal charges. You have the hammer, no doubt.

    But the child's interests are best served by giving Dad more than every other weekend and one night a week. If Dad has to go to a couple of parenting classes in the early going to bone up on nutrition, hygeine and care while your boy is sick, that is easy to do, and in the long run will be best for the boy. In your heart, you should know this.
    Last edited by dadtotheend; 04-04-2010, 01:46 PM.


    • #3
      Just a comment on his proposed schedule. That is a LOT of transitions/handovers, and will be a lot of burden on all 3 of you.

      Why not suggest instead
      - EOW (Friday 5pm thru Monday morning daycare dropoff)
      - Weds overnight (5pm thru Thurs morning daycare dropoff)

      It's actually more time than he's currently asking for, so if he is being motivated by wanting to spend time with his son, and being a real parent (i.e. doing the bedtime/breakfast routines) then should have no complaint.

      This will also help shield your son from your conflict, since you will never meet your ex face to face during handovers.

      Another suggestion - cut your son's fingernails SHORT before the EOW accesses. (from experience - my DD's mom does not do this, even though DD has a chronic problem for 18 months now with recurring pussy itchy pimples - so I do it)
      Last edited by dinkyface; 04-05-2010, 10:32 AM.


      • #4
        Shea, I have to second everything Dadtotheend says.

        The splitting of a family is extremely stressful on everyone and we all end up behaving in ways we wouldn't normally. I'm not excusing his raising his hand to slap you, or making threats of violence, but you have to look at who the person is during his lifetime as well, not just when his life was coming apart.

        Mainly I want to apply this to your child and the scratching, which is just as much due to the stress of his parents splitting as anything else. My youngest didn't transition well during the first years (3-4) but in the opposite way, he wouldn't leave me to go to his mother and would throw crying fits in public and grab me and not let go. But keep in mind that he also settled down and had great times at his mother's 10 minutes after I left.

        You can't look at your child being upset and scratching and point the finger at just the father. The two of you could be absolutely the best parents in the world and the child would still be upset.

        You aren't solving the problems with your child by ramping this up and taking him to court, this is creating more conflict, hostility, expense and stress. It's ridiculous to go to court just over a few hours of access either way when you are in agreement about everything else.

        Smoking, diet and hygene are things to take to the child's doctor, arrange a visit with both you and dad in the office and have the doctor explain the situation, not you. I can guarentee that he will feel sensitive and defencive about anything you say to him about his care of the child, get the doctor to speak of it.

        Unless you are going to try to eliminate his access altogether, you are going to have to let go and not try to manage how he cares for his child when they are together. I don't approve of everything my kid's mother does in her house, she doesn't approve of everything I do, but we don't need each other's approval.

        You should have an absolutely friendly, supportive and helpful relationship with each other when it comes to child care. He should feel absolutely comfortable that if he is having problems getting the boy to eat his supper, he can call you and ask for suggestions and not get an earful of criticism. I'm sure you are the nicest person in the world, but he is going to hugely nervous about asking you for advice and assistance if you start criticizing his parenting skills in court. I can guarentee that he will never call you with a problem if you do that. What kind of parenting partnership do you want to have with him?


        • #5
          Ok, so I was at the courthouse today looking into a restraining order or peace bond on my ex, because he's up to no good with harrassment (sending me blank emails, driving around my neighbourhood, etc) and the Justice of the Peace (god love him) looked into whether a peace bond or restraining order should be used, and upon doing some digging, found out that I'm scheduled to attend an early case conference on Monday the 13th.

          Problem is, I wasn't aware of this. The opposing lawyer (remember, I'm representing myself) sent me a letter on the 30th asking me if I preferred the 13th or May 3rd. I replied that May 3rd was better. I guess she didn't wait around for a response!

          Question: Can I ask the court to put this over a while so I can get prepared? Can this be done ahead of time or at the case conference itself? Finally, can the other side just go ahead and book dates without notice like this?



          • #6
            I am not sure why you would ask for a peace bond or a restraining order because your ex emailed a blank email or drove by your house (that would not constitute harrassment). Whom is he to communicate with since you no longer have counsel? Try to work together with him to negotiate the best possible outcome, if you have a restraining order you tie his hands and virtually make all transactions via the courts, a costly, time consuming and generally bad way to go. Sit down draft a schedule that works for you and if it suits you even have the drop off and pick up at the supervised access center. That way you don't have to see him and the third party being the access center will also be able to substantiate any claims you make regarding the childs condition when dropped off. For the sake of your child work with his father. Just my opinion.


            • #7
              I don't quite understand, you moved from Edmonton to Southwestern Ontario. Did you ex move along with you then?


              • #8
                Yes, he lives here now also.


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