The case of Bhadauria v Cote addresses the specific notice requirements surrounding a relocation of a child as a result of familial violence. Though the court may provide an exception to providing notice of a child’s relocation, such an exception will only be granted if there is sufficient evidence substantiating such allegations of violence.
Though the parties never married, their relationship progressed quickly. The parties began their relationship in late 2018. They began cohabiting in May 2019 and had a child together in December 2020. Following the birth of their child, the mother struggled with postpartum depression and depressive episodes. She began seeing a psychiatrist as a result.
The parties then began to experience difficulties in their relationship. They decided to give each other space in July 2021, with the father agreeing to vacate the home. However, upon his return in August 2021, the mother requested a separation. The child would remain in the mother’s care.
Following their separation, the mother routinely engaged in unilateral behavior when it came to the child. She would enroll the child in daycare without consultation with the father. She would restrict his parenting time unless he agreed to attend mediation. She insisted that all his parenting time be supervised by a neutral third party. In most of these regards, the father capitulated.
In March 2022, the father was made aware that the mother had listed her house for sale and terminated her retainer with her counsel. Worried for the child’s safety, he contacted Ottawa police, who then informed him that the mother had unilaterally taken the child to France and would not be returning. The mother, in refusing to return, alleged that the father was violent towards her and the child, and that if she were forced to return, she would be subjected to psychological abuse, would have no home to live in, and would be unable to work as she had quit her job.
With respect to changing a child’s place of residence, notice is required to be given to any parent with decision-making responsibility, parenting time or contact, prior to said relocation. Under section 39.1(1) of the Children’s Law Reform Act (CLRA), such notice is a requirement, and can only be waived by the court if they are of the opinion that it is appropriate to do so, or if there is a risk of family violence. The mother alleged that the father was violent, thereby justifying her relocation of the child without notifying the father.
The court was resolute in describing the high bar regarding allegations of family violence. With recent amendments to the Children’s Law Reform Act and Divorce Act, a greater emphasis was placed on the impact that family violence can have on children. That being said, such allegations must be substantiated by independent, third-party evidence. In this regard, the court found the mother’s evidence to be lacking.
Affidavits submitted by the mother’s friends clearly showed an apprehension of bias against the father, with most of their criticism stemming from the mother herself, rather than personal observation. Furthermore, there was little, if any evidence of threatening messages or emails from the father that would warrant the label of familial violence. There were also no allegations of the father threatening to harm the child, save for one relating to a scratch on the child’s arm, which the father vehemently denied.
Furthermore, the notice requirements are intended to be fulfilled prior to the relocation taking place. This helps ensure that parents are asking for permission from the court for such action. Parents are not permitted to unilaterally change a child’s place of residence without prior approval from the appropriate authority. The mother did not seek an urgent motion or other urgent relief, but instead chose to engage in a self-help remedy by moving with the child, unbeknownst to the father and the court. Any difficulties associated with returning the child to Ottawa were of the mother’s own making, and could not be relied upon as reasons to justify her unilateral departure.
In its reasoning, the court emphasized the weight it gave to allegations of familial violence as it represents an exception to providing notice of relocation. However, such allegations must be substantiated by sufficient evidence of said violence. Absent that, such a relocation of a child without notice to the other parent will simply be seen as unilateral self-help action.