Judge Relinquishes Custody of Bickering Self-reps in B.C. Parenting Dispute
In a June 2016 decision at the British Columbia Provincial Court, the Honourable Judge B. Dyer ruled that he would no longer be responsible for solving the disagreements of two self-represented parties, ZSR and RS, after three years of litigation regarding their daughter.
The parties were parents of a 4-year-old child and had been before Judge Dyer on at least three occasions, requiring him to rule on or consider the following issues, among others:
- Who the child’s dentist would be;
- Where the child would attend preschool and kindergarten;
- Which parent would celebrate Christmas and Easter on which day according to their respective Russian Orthodox and Catholic faith;
- Whether the child should be permitted to watch cartoons prior to FaceTime visits and the effect that cartoons might have had on the “quality and commitment” of the child’s FaceTime contact with the mother;
- The importance of a nap schedule for the 4-year old;
- Whether the mother continued breastfeeding of the child was beneficial or an impediment to the father’s parenting time;
- The risks/benefits of co-sleeping and its impact on “individuation” and bonding with the father;
- Whether the father’s method of service of documents on the mother was inappropriate;
- Whether the father or his brother could film or digitally record any actions of the mother without her consent;
- Which roads the father would drive while transporting the child and at which times of day.
Dyer J. wrote that “[t]he gold standard in such cases is parents learning to compromise. If one parent, for example, believes there should be no electronics past 7:30 p.m. and another feels 9:00 p.m. is a proper cut-off for electronics, one compromise, of course, might be a rule in both households that none be made available to the child past 8:15 p.m. This is not rocket science, but unhappily compromising is a concept that these two parents seem to struggle with at times.”(para.44)
Dyer J. was exceedingly patient in considering all of the above points and more, but near the end of his reasons he states: “It is not in [the child’s] best interests to have a further round or rounds of contested family litigation over where she will go to preschool, church or elementary school…There is to be a minimum two years’ peace between these two parents during which they can practise their compromising skills, and in the event there is some unresolved issue in dispute, perhaps seek the assistance of a counsellor or parenting coordinator…”(paras. 139-146)
Dyer J. finally releases the parties back into the wild, by stating that “the time has come for me to direct that I will not in future hear matters pertaining to these parties, unless there is some emergent situation and no other judge is available.”(para.149.) He expressed concern that, by being allowed to continue to appear before a judge that knew so much about them and their issues, the parties were not motivated to resolve any disagreements between themselves. Rather, the parties might continue to simply elect to have Dyer J. solve any disputes between them. “Having to face a new judge who knows nothing about them will add a strong incentive or impetus to their resolving issues outside court, rather than litigating them before a known judge” but neither party was entitled to bring any further applications for a full two years. (paras.145, 150)