Opinion: Relocation and Onerous Parenting Provisions
Relocation cases are some of the most difficult cases to litigate due to the “all or nothing” nature of the outcome. The Court must determine whether the child will stay or go, a decision which will profoundly impact the child and parents. In reading recent relocation decisions from our Court, I have begun to question whether, in trying to minimize the disruption in the parent-child relationship, the Court is overcorrecting in making generous, to the point of onerous, parenting plans for the non-relocating parent.
In Ting v Ting, 2022 ABQB 229, the mother successfully sought relocation of a 3-year-old child from Edmonton to South Carolina. The Trial Justice heard significant evidence over the course of a 7-day Trial and noted that both parents were capable and loved their son dearly. She impugned the conduct of both parties at times, but ultimately determined that it was in the child’s best interests to remain in the primary care of his mother and relocate to Bluffton, South Carolina.
The Trial Justice then decided that until the child started school, he should travel to Edmonton every other month for 10 days, and in the opposite months, the father shall have 7-10 days of parenting time in Bluffton. Thereafter, once the child was in school, he would travel to Edmonton for 6 weeks each summer, and for each of the spring break, fall break, Thanksgiving, part of the Christmas break, and for any other extended school breaks at the father’s option, and the father would have “unfettered” parenting time in Bluffton if he chose to travel there. The father would be responsible for flying with the child to Bluffton, while the mother would be responsible for flying the child to Edmonton. This parenting plan followed a proposal put forth by the mother.
In reading this parenting plan, I could not help but be struck by the significance of the parenting time awarded to the father, and curious about the practicality of the parenting plan. The closest airport to Bluffton is in Savannah, Georgia, approximately 40 minutes away. There are no direct flights between Edmonton and Savannah, and the most direct route the writer could find was via Denver, a trip which takes no less than 7 hours. The child, at least until school age, would be making this trip every second month. The father, every month.
It is hard for me not to question how realistic or desirable this parenting plan is for the parents and for the child and whether it is setting them up for failure. Is it realistic that a parent living over 4,000 kilometres from their child would have more 30% or more of the parenting time? How can the father be expected to maintain his full-time employment with such onerous travel? The Trial Justice spent no time, at least in her lengthy written decision, analyzing these questions. If nothing else, this decision illustrates that a party wishing to relocate a child should be prepared to propose to the Court, and to follow, a generous parenting plan for the other parent.