In early April it was reported that UFC superstar, Chuck Liddell, had begun a custody battle for his son. He and his ex-partner, Lori Geyer have a 12-year-old son together named Cade. While Chuck currently lives in L.A., his son lives primarily with Lori in Colorado. On April 1, 2011, Chuck attended the L.A. County Courthouse to request full custody of his son. He claimed that Cade was depressed and didn't want to go back to live with his mother after a access visit with Chuck. He also claimed that he believed that his health and safety were at risk because Cade had been living with a toothache for 2-3 months.
While this was happening, Lori filed a Police Report in Colorado claiming that Chuck had kidnapped Cade. Chuck had picked up Cade on March 23 and allegedly informed Lori that he would be returning him on March 27 and that they would be spending time with each other in Colorado. Lori called the Police on March 27 when she received a phone call from Chuck's lawyer explaining that Cade was in California and that he would not be returned to her until after the Custody hearing which they planned to bring. No charges were laid against Chuck as the police determined that no criminal activity had occurred.
In her pleadings, Lori claimed that Chuck used illegal drugs and was dependant on alcohol and this has clouded his judgment and has led him to take their son from her.
At the April 1, 2011 custody hearing in L.A., the Court determined that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and that the case should have been brought in Colorado where the child primarily lives. The matter was to be heard in Colorado on April 5, 2011. No reports have surfaced regarding what happened on that date.
What would happen in Ontario?
Although this case is about a "custody" battle for Cade, it is important to note the different definitions of the word custody in Canada and in the United States. In the U.S. "custody" refers to the physical care and control of the child. In Canada, "custody" is the legal decision making responsibilities for the child, but not the physical care of the child.
The physical care of having the child live with one parent or the other is referred to as parenting time. In this case, it appears that the parenting time is split so that Lori is the primary residence parent and Chuck is the access parent. When Chuck attended at Court and claimed that Cade did not want to live with Lori any more and that he therefore wanted to have full custody of Cade, if he were in Ontario, he would be requesting that the parenting arrangement be changed so that he would be the primary residence parent and Lori, the access parent. When a claim such as this is brought forth, the Court will have to determine if the requested change is in the Best Interests of the Child as outlined in the Divorce Act or the Children's Law Reform Act.
It is clear that this is a very high conflict matter. From the initial reading of the news reports, it is difficult to determine which party may or may not be telling the whole truth about the matter. In circumstances such as these where there is a lot of conflict between the parties, and where it would be difficult for a Court to determine which party is being truthful and what is in the Best Interests of the Child regarding the custody of and parenting arrangements for the child, there is an option to enlist the assistance of third parties trained to deal with children.
In order to determine the best option for who the child should be living with, the parties may request the assistance of the Office of the Children's Lawyer (OCL). The OCL is a government-run organization staffed with lawyers and social workers who may represent the child's interests in a given matter. When parties would like the assistance of the OCL, they can ask for the Court to make an Order requesting their involvement. Although a Court may make this order, the OCL will review the files and the intake forms of both parties and then make a determination as to whether they will become involved in the matter. If the OCL chooses to become involved, they may assign either a lawyer to the child or a social worker to the file. When a child is slightly older and would have a opinion of their own on the situation, as Cade would in this case, the OCL generally assigns a lawyer to the file who obtains the child's position regarding the matter. As a child gets older, his or her position and interests hold more weight and need to be taken into consideration. If a child is younger and is unable to articulate him or herself fully, a social worker or clinical investigator is usually assigned to the file as these individuals are trained to be able to determine what is best for the child in the circumstances based on their investigations and interviews with the individuals in the child's life.
In either instance, the individual will interview the child, the parents, and any other people in the child's life that he or she believes would have information relevant to the investigation so that they are able to provide an opinion parties and to the Court regarding what he or she believes is the best living arrangements for the child. Generally the OCL's opinion holds great weight with the Court with respect to the parenting arrangement which is Ordered as this person will have a background knowledge of the family and the child's situation that the Court would not have.
In this case, it would be a good idea to ask the Court for an Order requesting the involvement of the Office of the Children's lawyer. From the facts as we know them, it would be very difficult for the Court to determine what parent should be the primary residence parent of the Cade. In addition, as Cade is a 12-year-old boy, and as Chuck has claimed that Cade has said that he wants to live with him instead of with Lori, it would be important for Cade to have representation in order for his opinions to also be heard.
If the OCL declined to become involved in this matter, the parties would have to decide whether it would be best to hire another third party, such as a assessor, or mediator, who would be able to spend more time with the family and come to an opinion about Cade's primary residence, or if they would simply like to request that the Court make the determination without any outside help.