Court Varies Parenting Plan After Mother Unilaterally Withdraws Child From School

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For separated parents, the end of summer and return to school mean more than purchasing new school supplies. Parenting plans are crucial roadmaps for co-parenting after a separation, and they often touch on the important decision of a child’s education. Where will your child go to school, and who gets to make that decision? These questions can lead to confusion and conflict.

This blog will delve into parenting plans and school enrolment disputes in light of the recent case of Grove v. Fahad, in which the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was asked to vary a parenting order to address issues regarding the well-being and education of the parties’ nine-year-old child. 

Mother Commences Homeschooling Without Father’s Consent

In Grove v. Fahad, the parents had entered into a consent order in September 2023, which provided that the child would attend a specific school and that the applicant mother (the “mother”) would have care of the child on weekdays, with the respondent father (the “father”) having care of the child on the weekend, as per the historical parenting arrangement. However, after January 9, 2024, the child did not attend school while in the mother’s care and, at the time this matter was heard, had missed 70 school days since September. It was determined that the mother had unilaterally withdrawn the child from the school and began homeschooling the child without the father’s consent. 

Given that this was contrary to the interim Parenting Order, the father brought this matter before the court seeking the child’s return to school. He also brought a motion seeking to vary the parenting arrangement to ensure that the child attended school. However, the mother contested this, arguing that the specified school was “not a good fit for the child.”

Mother Seeks to Change Child’s School Enrolment Several Times

The parties had separated in 2016 when the child was two years old. Parenting time between the pirates was uneven until July 2023, when the mother was faced with eviction, and she agreed to allow the father to have temporary care of the child. During this time, he enrolled the child in the specified school; however, the mother accused the father of withholding the child which resulted in a court order reinstating the mother’s primary care during the week.

Additional problems arose when the mother failed to ensure the child attended school for extended periods and requested to change the child’s school enrollment several times. In December 2023, the principal at the school advised the father that the mother requested to transfer the child to another school. In January 2024, the principal informed the father that the mother sought to withdraw the child completely and commence homeschooling instead. 

The Child’s Best Interest is to be Considered When Determining Choice of School

When the Superior Court reviewed the matter, it began its assessment by considering the child’s best interests in accordance with sections 24(1) and 24(2) of the Children’s Law Reform Act. Parental disputes over the choice of school a child should attend become a matter of judicial discretion to be determined in accordance with the child’s best interests. The Court referenced the 2018 decision of Thomas v. Osika, which outlined several principles to assist a judge in making such a decision.

After considering the applicable principles, the Court determined that it was in the child’s best interests to continue attending the school they had been enrolled in prior to the mother withdrawing them. The Court noted that the mother was unable to provide “any satisfactory explanation supported by evidence for her decision to withdraw the child from school.”  While the mother alleged that the child’s ADHD prevented them from coping in a split grade, no such diagnosis has been confirmed by any health professional. 

Court Rejects Mother’s Arguments 

The Court also accepted that the child may experience bullying, it was not satisfied that “this cannot be managed by supports within the school.” The Voice of the Child report also noted that the child had informed both parents about name-calling at school, and while the father had spoken to the principal about the incident, it was “unclear what follow-up the mom has done, if any, to minimize it happening again.” The Court stated that the mother “[p]ulling the child entirely out of school is not a solution as that strategy may compound other anxieties resulting from social isolation.”

The Court also noted that, as highlighted by the father’s counsel, the mother had previously taken steps to switch the child out of the school as early as December 13, 2023, undermining her submission’s credibility. The mother also submitted that the child had removed her hijab and alleged that returning to school would be stressful for her. However, this issue was not raised with the father before the hearing, and the Court found that this was not a reason for the mother to keep the child out of school.

Missed School Likely to Impact Child’s Educational Achievements

The Court acknowledged that the parents have shared decision-making authority over the child and found that the mother, who was not a custodial parent, was in breach of the parenting order. In other words, she was “required to obtain the father’s consent before unilaterally removing the child from school and enrolling the child in homeschooling,” she “neither obtained consent nor returned the matter before the court to obtain a variation of the terms of the order.” 

Consequently, the child missed several months of school, “which will likely impact the child’s educational achievements for this year.” Moreover, the Court highlighted that “the child has already been struggling academically and by pulling her from school, the mother has risked the child falling further behind academically. In this regard, the mother has neither complied with a court order nor acted in the child’s best interests.”

As a result, the Court found it was in the best interests of the child to return to school and the Court ordered the child to reside with the father during the weekdays to ensure her attendance at the school, which reversed the initial interim parenting order. The Court also stated that the father would have decision-making authority “on matters of education following reasonable consultation with the mother so as to minimize delays and further conflicts around school decisions.”

Contact Johnson Miller Family Lawyers in Windsor for Assistance with Parenting Plans

Parenting disputes, particularly regarding school enrolment, can be particularly contentious. If you have questions about parenting plans and seek to vary an existing parenting order, it is important to understand how the law may apply to your circumstances. At Johnson Miller Family Lawyers, our trusted team of family lawyers regularly work with clients to strategically resolve parenting issues. To speak with an experienced Windsor family lawyer about your parenting plan or child support matter,, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online

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