The act of one parent alienating children from the other parent is a serious one that can have drastic consequences on the children shared by the parents. For parents who are alienated from their children, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to undo the damage done. Additionally, as seen in a recent decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the ability to pursue monetary damages through the courts can also be difficult.
Mother moves to Florida
The mother and father were married in 1998 and had a child in 1999 before separating in 2001. The parties signed a separation agreement that stated both parents would remain within a certain distance of Oakville, Ontario until their daughter turned 18.
This arrangement was in place for over a decade. Then, in 2013, the mother moved to Florida with her new partner. The daughter visited the mother there in August 2014, when she was 15-years-old. Following the child’s arrival in Florida, the mother’s lawyer wrote to the father stating the daughter wanted to remain in the United States and live with her mother.
This led to the father’s commencement of litigation against the mother. He sought the child’s return to Ontario, but the child was ultimately successful in stopping the request when an Ontario court allowed her to withdraw from the guardianship of her parents when she was 16-years-old.
Father seeks financial compensation for alienation
In July 2018 the father commenced a proceeding in Florida against the mother and her new partner. He sought $9.6 million in what was described as “damages, including punitive damages should such award be appropriate, arising from an intentional course of conduct by Defendants to interfere with the custodial rights of Plaintiff and to intentionally cause economic, emotional, and psychological harm to Plaintiff.”
In his pursuit of damages, the father obtained two letters of request from the Florida Court seeking assistance from Ontario courts in producing documents from the daughter and her legal team during her time seeking emancipation from the parties.
The father’s pursuit of that documentation was cut short by an application judge in Ontario who concluded it would be against public policy to enforce the Letters of Request for two reasons. The first is because the action the father was seeking in Florida was forbidden in Ontario. The second reason was that it interfered with solicitor-client privilege between the daughter and her lawyers at the time.
The decision not to enforce Letters of Request is upheld
The court cited case law which stated that public policy interests are a valid reason for the courts to exercise their discretionary powers when it comes to letters of request. However, it did not make a judgment on that issue. This is because the court also agreed with the application judge’s determination that providing the documents would be a violation of solicitor-client privilege. As a result, the appeal failed on that ground alone. The court found that the litigation before it during this trial was an extension of the litigation between the parties that had taken place over the last number of years, and that privilege should be applied to communications between the daughter and her lawyers.
As a result of these factors, the father’s appeal was denied.
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