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Alberta court denies father’s relocation plan, citing children’s best interests

Court directs that children receive generous parenting time with father after his move to Nunavut

Alberta court denies father’s relocation plan, citing children’s best interests
The Alberta Provincial Court rejected a father’s request to relocate to Nunavut with his children. | Credit: Alberta Courts website.

Alberta’s Provincial Court has found that allowing two girls to reside with their mother in a local farming community rather than letting them relocate with their custodial father to Nunavut would be in their best interest.

In Wnuk v Young, 2021 ABPC 112, the applicant father and respondent mother have two daughters, the elder born in 2013 and currently in second grade, and the younger born in 2015 and in kindergarten. The parents separated sometime before April 2016. The girls initially lived largely with the mother, then were subject to a 50-50 shared parenting regime. An April 2018 order directed them to reside primarily with their father and to spend parenting time with their mother on weekends, extended weekends and holidays.

The father applied to the Provincial Court of Alberta for an order allowing him to relocate from Grande Prairie, Alberta to Coral Harbour, Nunavut, where he was offered a job with a good hourly wage. The mother opposed and asked for the children to reside with her on an acreage in the New Fish Creek area, near Valleyview, Alberta, where she lived with her extended farming family.

The Alberta Provincial Court denied the father’s application to permit a relocation of the children to Nunavut and granted the mother’s application to allow them to live with her on a day-to-day basis. The court directed that the children be transferred to the mother before the father’s departure for Nunavut and that the children receive generous parenting time with their father, including reasonable electronic communication.

Considering the best interests of the children in all circumstances and the impact on them in leaving one parent and relocating to a new, remote location with the other parent, the court found that directing the children to reside with their mother would be in line with a child-centered approach. The daughters’ expanded contact with their mother and the continuation of the familiar environmental and social aspects of their lives in Alberta would offset the effects of the reduction of their contact with their father, the court said.

The court acknowledged that Coral Harbour -- a small, remote Nunavut community -- might provide a warm and close-knit environment for the children, but said it was not known how the community would welcome the father upon his relocation there. On the other hand, New Fish Creek is in the girls’ home province of Alberta, is close to the large city of Grande Prairie, where they had been living, and had amenities for children unavailable in Coral Harbour. New Fish Creek also has the valuable support of the mother’s parents and grandparents, with whom the girls have relationships.

The court found that, while there would be disruption in the children’s lives in either case, the disruption that may occur when they move to their mother’s home would be moderated by their familiarity with the home and community, the mother’s solid connections to this community, the girls’ established connections with their extended family in the area, and the proximity of Grande Prairie.

The court recognized that the father was a central figure for his daughters, but stressed that the mother’s role in their lives had not been peripheral and that she had maintained a strong and consistent connection with them.

A blog post on the website of HMC Lawyers LLP summarizing the case noted that, while issues of parenting time and decision-making upon separation can be challenging even if both parties reside in the same location, the parties may find it even more difficult to agree upon such issues when one parent intends to move across the country.

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