We’ve blogged in the past about the impact resistance to COVID-19 health measures have had on separated or divorced parents. We’ve also blogged about the ways in which the misuse of social media can impact family law decisions. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, we get the opportunity to look at how those two areas can intersect and the way that courts might look at the behaviour of a parent who expresses their opinions about COVID-19 and parenting on social media.
Post-separation, conflict began to rise between the co-parents
The mother and father were married in 2014 and separated five years later towards the end of 2019. Following their separation, the parents managed to carry on with a parenting schedule that saw them splitting parenting time evenly. This was later formalized in a 2020 Separation Agreement.
When COVID-19 first hit, there was little change to the parenting approach taken by each parent. However, when the mother was laid off from her job, and the father was able to keep his, they agreed that the children would spend most weekdays in the mother’s care.
The mother said that the issues that brought her to court began in April 2021. The mother told the court that, beginning that month, the father started arriving at her residence unannounced. She said that her and the father each started new relationships during the pandemic, and that the father contacted her new partner and created conflict there. The mother told the court that the father wanted to include her in issues related to his new relationship, but that she wanted to limit their contact strictly to issues related to the children. The issues did not end here.
Father uses TikTok to share his views on COVID-19
The mother told the court that the father started to voice his opposition to COVID-19 health measures in September 2021 when he said he was opposed to the children wearing masks at school. He went so far as to tell school officials that the children were not to wear masks while at school.
The mother shared two videos the father had posted on his TikTok account. In those videos, he claimed that giving children vaccines was tantamount with child abuse. He called it “experimental gene therapy” and referenced the ongoing family law litigation he was a part of. In a second video, he is shown entering a grocery store with one of their children. In the video, in which neither he or the child are wearing a mask, he refers to them as “purebloods.”
In addition to the TikTok videos, the mother provided the court with messages the father posted on his Facebook page, including one where he wrote:
“Giving a child from 5-11 a jab. Is 100% child abuse. They literally have a 99.997-99.999% survival rate. They can do nothing but harm them. FACT/SCIENCE. If you are in favour of giving children in this age group the jab please unfriend me because I think you’re the most disgusting vile person on the planet.”
Does the father’s online behaviour warrant a change in decision-making responsibilities?
The questions the court were tasked with answering included whether the father’s online content was enough to give the mother complete decision-making responsibilities. The court also considered what parenting regime might be in their best interests. The court also ruled on whether the father should be allowed to post images or videos of the children on social media.
As in all family law cases involving children, the law states that the only determining factor is the best interests of the children. The Divorce Act lists some of the factors used to understand what is in a child’s best interests, which include the child’s age and stage of development, the child’s relationship with each spouse, childcare plans, and family violence.
The father put his personal beliefs ahead of the best interests of his child
In addressing the issue of decision-making responsibility, the court held that the father’s decisions around COVID-19 and the children were made unilaterally and without consideration of the children’s health or that of the extended family. The court stated that communication is extremely important when separated parents share decision-making responsibilities. The father had not demonstrated that he was able to effectively communicate. Because of this, the court determined the mother should have final decision-making responsibilities for the children. However, the court did not see reason to adjust the parenting schedule between the parents and the children, and ordered that the status quo be maintained in that regard.
Finally, the court turned to the question about whether the father should be able to make social media posts containing images of the children. The court wrote that the father’s online behaviour indicated he was placing his beliefs ahead of the children’s well-being. In addition to that, the court found that some of his posts included direct threats to the mother, and that she had contacted police as a result of his posts. The court found this behaviour to be “highly inappropriate” and ordered the father “must cease from posting the children in any manner that they are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic or any other health-related issue.”
Let Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors help with your family law issues
The family lawyers at Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors recognize that working through disputes concerning parenting time can be one of the most stressful aspects of separation or divorce. With over 25 years of experience, we can help ease this stress while working compassionately and efficiently towards a solution that has your family’s best interests in mind. We offer services across all areas of family law, including child support, spousal support, mediation, and more. We proudly serve clients in Windsor, Essex County, and throughout the region. Please give us a call at 519-973-1500 or reach out to us online to schedule an initial consultation today.