Step-Parent Access: Agmon v James 2018 ONCJ 4

Facts

The mother and father had one child together whom they co-parented.  The child spent weekdays with the mother and weekends with the father. The father and stepmother had a relationship that spanned seven years.  Upon the separation of the father and the stepmother, the stepmother wanted to continue to have a relationship with the child, but the mother and father opposed same.  The stepmother brought a motion seeking an order for temporary access to the child in accordance with best interest factors in section 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act.

Analysis

Justice Sherr found that the stepmother made an overwhelming case that she is entitled to spend time with the child.  That is to say, the stepmother gave clear and detailed evidence about the important role that she played in the child’s life.  The evidence clearly revealed that the stepmother viewed the child as her own and that she loved him deeply. Specifically, the stepmother had been intimately involved in all aspects of the child’s life since he was one year old.

The Court found the mother’s testimony contradictory.  Specifically, the Court found that the mother minimized the stepmother’s relationship with the child, yet, the mother sought child support from the stepmother.  The Court found that the fact that the mother was seeking child support from the stepmother directly contradicted the mother’s testimony minimizing the relationship between the child and stepmother.  Specifically, in order to successfully claim child support from the stepmother, the mother would have to establish that there was a formed and settle intention for the stepmother to treat the child as her own family.

Ultimately, Justice Sherr found that the stepmother established strong prima facie evidence that she formed a settled intention to treat the child as a child of her own family.  Specifically, the stepmother established that she had a close and loving relationship with the child and played an important part of providing the child with a stable home environment for many years.

Moreover, the Court found that the father had a pattern of arbitrary behavior toward people he was in conflict with.  Furthermore, the father’s credibility was hurt by his conduct; the stepmother established real concern that the father had not been acting in good faith with respect to denying her access.

Additionally, Justice Sherr found that the mother and father’s plan to deny the stepmother access to the child was not in the child’s best interests. Furthermore, Justice Sherr held that by refusing the stepmother access to the child, the mother and father were depriving the child of important relationships with his sister, friends, and extended family.

Ultimately the Court found that the stepmother assumed the role of a third parent to the child. Notably, while the Court did consider the wishes of the father and mother, the Court found that they did not have parental autonomy to exclude the stepmother from the child’s life.  Justice Sherr held that it was in the child’s best interests to have meaningful temporary access with the stepmother as they clearly loved each other and because the child viewed the stepmother as a parent. The Court held that the relationship between the child and the stepmother should be preserved and fostered.

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