On March 1, 2021, The Children’s Law Act, 2020 (the “CLA”) came into force. The CLA amended the criteria for the best interests of the child analysis, directing the courts to more effectively consider family violence as a factor when determining decision-making responsibilities and parenting time.
The relevant sections of the CLA for determining an appropriate parenting order are sections 10(1) through 10(4), which now specifically require the court to take into consideration any family violence including the nature, seriousness and frequency of violence, the harm or risk of harm to the child and the pattern of this behaviour, amongst other factors.
Allegations of domestic violence are present in a significant number of applications before the court. However, more often than not, the alleged abuser categorically denies the allegations. The issue of who to believe and what weight to attribute to the allegations has been a common issue in family law. With the new amendments to the CLA, these issues are, once again, front and center.
Since the CLA came into force several cases have come before the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench addressing this issue. In Juraville v Armstrong, 2021 SKQB 73, the mother and father both alleged physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of the other and denied, absolutely and completely, the version told by the other. Mr. Justice Megaw performed an in-depth analysis of how the court considers contradictory evidence of domestic violence in light of decision making and parenting, stating:
The real question, therefore, is not whether particular events, or any events, did or did not happen. Those may be determined in a trial, or they may remain undetermined. The focus of the court now must be on, and remain on, the best interests of these children and how to safely structure parenting in view of what is being alleged. The allegations of violence and abuse must, of course, be considered in determining these best interests. Such consideration is done not from a perspective of punishing the alleged abuser, or any party. It is important to keep in mind, by addressing the allegations of violence and abuse and by inserting protections, the court is not to be seen as having made findings of fact regarding these allegations.
Ultimately, despite the significant allegations of domestic violence, Mr. Justice Megaw determined that the concerns regarding allegations of violence could be addressed by ensuring the parties did not interact on a personal level and that the evidence did not support a conclusion that the children’s best interests would prevent parenting time with either the mother or father.
In a similar decision, DW v EO, 2021 SKQB 157, both parents alleged domestic violence was inflicted by the other and adamantly denied they were the perpetrator of any abuse. Despite the allegations, Madam Justice Richmond determined that it was still in the child’s best interests to have a shared parenting arrangement to facilitate the relationship between the child and both parents. This, despite the fact that both parents alleged family violence, demonstrated an unwillingness to cooperate with the other regarding the care of the child with violence and arguments continuing to occur in front of the child and a high level of anger and animosity towards each other.
While it is now a legislative requirement through the CLA for the court to consider domestic violence when analyzing the best interests of the child, it is still only one of many factors for the court to consider in a highly subjective analysis. Based on recent case law, the presence of domestic violence, particularly where the violence has not been inflicted on the child, appears to have minimal impact on the best interests of the child analysis.