And the saga continues. While the contentious and bitter divorce between former NFL superstar, Deion Sanders, and his wife of 12 years, Pilar Sanders isn't new news, it certainly got a bit juicier this week. The spouses were in court over a matter resulting from an April 23 scuffle at their Dallas home.
As reported by TMZ, Deion secretly filed for divorce in December, leaving Pilar to find out about the divorce application on the internet.
According to court documents, Pilar sought to set aside their prenuptial agreement on the grounds that Deion was a serial adulterer who committed numerous indiscretions over the course of their marriage. Deion countered, asserting that Pilar was just trying to extort money from him. Pilar Sanders also launched a defamation lawsuit against her husband arising from a tweet from Deion's daughter, Deiondra, calling Pilar a "gold-digging [expletive]" to which Deion responded by saying that the statement could not be defamation because it was true.
Despite their pending divorce, the two continued to share their $5.7 million home in Prospect, Texas.
On April 23, 2012, however, police were called to the Sanders residence over an alleged scuffle between the spouses. On Twitter, Deion alleged that Pilar and a friend "jumped him" in his room at their home. Shortly thereafter, his estranged wife was taken to hospital after complaining of a medical condition, and Deion tweeted a picture of him and his two sons filling out police reports. Pilar then filed her own police report, and both asked the court for a restraining order.
Last week, Texas State District Judge, Ray Wheless, ruled that Pilar's injuries were the result of Deion having acted in self-defence. Pilar was ordered to stay 500 feet away from the couple's home. In addition, Justice Wheless awarded Deion interim custody pending a full hearing. In Ontario, interim custody orders may be made pending a hearing, trial, a final order, or while waiting an act by one of the parties. Both s.16(2) of the Divorce Act and s. 21 and 72 of the Children's Law Reform Act deal with interim orders.
In this case, it is likely that Justice Wheless awarded interim custody to Deion because of Pilar's violent attack on her estranged husband.
The overriding consideration in determining custody and access is the best interest of the child. The legislation's preference for stability and continuity can be seen in the test applied by the courts on an interim order; namely, what temporary living arrangements are the least disruptive, most supportive and most protective of the child. The status quo should be maintained as closely as possible; this means that an interim order may favour the existing situation or the parent who has de facto custody immediately following separation (Marshall v Marshall).
It is also likely that Justice Wheless wanted to keep the couple's two sons in the Dallas home, where they permanently reside. This is the least disruptive solution, and the one that allows the children to resume their day-to-day routines with the least change.
The question everyone is asking is: will Deion Sanders be awarded sole custody of the boys on a final basis?
While only time will tell, interim orders in Ontario are often determinative of final custody orders. Although Deion may not be awarded sole custody, he might be awarded primary residence. In making a final custody order, the courts will once again take into consideration the best interests of the children. In assessing a parent's ability to act as a parent, the courts will look at past conduct where the person has committed violence or abuse against his or her spouse (s. 24(5)(b)).
However, if Deion hopes to maintain custody, he should be wary of limiting Pilar's access to the children in the interim period.
Although Deion has a restraining order against his estranged wife, it would be unwise to make it impossible for their two sons to see their mother. S. 16(10) of the Divorce Act, known as the "friendly parent principle," states that a "court shall give effect to the principle that a child of the marriage should have as much contact with each spouse as is consistent with the best interests of the child and, for that purpose, shall take into consideration the willingness of the person for whom custody is sought to facilitate such contact."
Accordingly, the courts frown upon a parent limiting the children's access to the other parent simply because the relationship between the spouses is strained.
In the Sanders case, there have never been any allegations of child abuse or even poor parenting; as a result, it would be unwise for Deion to limit Pilar's access to the children.