Judge decries excessive fees for family law case determining consent to send child on vacation

Dominican Republic vacation is in child's best interests: Ontario court

Judge decries excessive fees for family law case determining consent to send child on vacation

In a recent case involving separated parents, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found it “crazy” that the legal fees to secure a parent’s consent for the child’s vacation exceeded the cost of the trip itself.

The parties, who were living in Ontario, married in 2007, had one daughter, and separated in 2010. A May 2010 court order provided for the child’s joint custody and principal residence with the mother and gave the father reasonable access. If either of them planned a vacation with the child, he or she should send the other parent a detailed itinerary.

The father moved to Nova Scotia. Last October, the mother sent him a letter seeking travel consent for a vacation – which would include the daughter, herself, her partner, and the partner’s daughter – to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, from Dec. 2 to 9. The letter included particulars such as the relevant dates, flight numbers, and hotel accommodation.

The father told the mother that he did not want their daughter, now 15 years old, to go on the trip and that he would not sign the travel consent.

The mother’s lawyer emailed the father a formal request to execute the travel consent and to confirm the travel arrangements. Though the father allegedly agreed to sign the consent, the mother claimed that he still failed to sign the copy emailed by the lawyer.

The mother thus filed an urgent motion seeking permission to take the daughter on the vacation and to dispense with the father’s consent to the out-of-Canada trip.

Vacation request approved

In Bell v. Placidi, 2023 ONSC 6701, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved the vacation request. The Punta Cana vacation would be beneficial and in the best interests of the child, who wanted to go, the court found.

It was inappropriate for the father to attempt to barter his consent in exchange for the mother’s agreement to an unrelated proposal for the daughter’s visit to Nova Scotia over the holidays, the court added.

The mother requested $3,890 in costs if awarded on a full indemnity basis or $3,112.00 in costs if awarded on a 80-percent substantial indemnity basis.

“This has turned out to be a very expensive vacation, for everyone,” wrote Justice Alex Pazaratz for the court.

The court tried to limit the legal fees involved in this case by creating a mechanism to avoid a future costs attendance if it would be unproductive. The court also addressed an affidavit submitted by a law clerk at the office of the mother’s lawyer.

According to the affidavit, the clerk retrieved five voicemails from the law firm’s telephone system. The clerk described the messages, which were from somebody identifying herself as the father’s sister, as aggressive, threatening, and extremely hostile.

The court accepted that the voicemails were needlessly offensive and provocative and that family law lawyers need not bear with this type of abuse.

However, the court found the affidavit unnecessary and irrelevant to deciding the specific issues involved in this matter. The court could not attribute the unpleasant behaviour described in the clerk’s affidavit to the father since it was apparently his sister who left the messages.

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