Judge bars battling parents from court


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

May 8, 2008 at 5:01 AM EDT

Mr. Justice Joseph Quinn has handled difficult divorce cases over the years, but he became so fed up with a couple from St. Catharines, Ont., that he issued an extraordinary order barring them from coming to court again without special permission.

"The parties have gorged on court resources as if the legal system were their private banquet table. It must not happen again," the Ontario Superior Court judge wrote in a ruling made public yesterday. "Both sides have shown an inability to abide by court orders such that their access to this court should be restricted by the requirement to obtain leave."

The judge added: "Some day, a wise person in a position of authority will realize that a court of law is not the best forum for deciding custody and access disputes, where principles of common sense masquerade as principles of law."

Stephen Grant, a family lawyer with McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, said this type of ruling is rare. "Typically what you see is a judge saying one party, not both, can't come back without leave," Mr. Grant said. "I actually don't even recall seeing a case where both parties were barred from coming back."

Toronto family lawyer Lorisa Stein said these rulings don't happen very often and occur mainly in cases where the parties represent themselves.

The couple, who can't be named because a child is involved, were married for one year and have an eight-year-old daughter. Under their divorce, the mother won custody and the father received extensive access.

Their legal battle has centred mainly on terms of the access and it has dragged on for seven years, involving 12 different judges, a dozen lawyers, 25 court orders, 2,000 pages of court filings, three contempt motions and one suspended sentence.

At one point the mother, 32, was so paranoid about the father she pulled the girl out of a good school just because the father attended a meet-the-teacher day, according to court records. She also took the child to dozens of medical appointments in the hope of finding a doctor who would support her allegations of emotional abuse by her ex-spouse, court records show. Last year, Judge Quinn convicted the mother of contempt for violating a court order at least 19 times. He said she showed "not a hint of remorse, only a redoubled intention to prove her conduct correct."

The judge said the father, 38, withheld child support and failed to make contributions to an education fund for the child, but still spent more than $200,000 fighting the case with a "scorched-earth" mentality. The father was so "hot-headed, stubborn and suspicious" that when Judge Quinn was considering punishment for the mother's contempt, the father pushed for a 30-day sentence.

"Had the father taken a more noble and forgiving approach, had he, for example, asked the court not to send the mother of his daughter to jail, I believe that his request would have shrunk the rift between both sides from a chasm to a crack, making possible a tolerable peace," said the judge, who issued a suspended sentence.

"That day, all chance was squandered for the child ever to comfortably breathe the name of one of her parents in the presence of the other. As matters now stand, both sides have been emotionally eviscerated and financially flayed. The damage is deep and dateless."

In another ruling on the case, the judge commented: "The father and mother have destroyed the likelihood that their child will ever enjoy the warmth of a close-knit extended family. It will fall to the child, in adulthood, perhaps, to repair the damage caused by her parents."

The mother, who works at a wellness centre, was unavailable for comment.

In an interview, the father, an electrician, acknowledged the judge was fed up. "I guess personally [he] just didn't want to deal with us any more," he said.

He added that he was disappointed with the ruling. "I think that she shouldn't have been allowed to go back [to court], but I should have. I may appeal it, I don't know."