She said she suffered a 'psychotic break'
The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has refused to allow interim parenting time following an incident where the mother tried to poison her son.
The parties were married in 2008 and had a son born shortly afterwards. The couple eventually divorced in 2016. The original custody agreement granted joint custody of the son with primary care provided by the mother, while the father had specified parenting time. However, conflicts arose when the mother relocated to Prince Edward Island (PEI) with the child.
A series of court hearings and orders followed. Eventually, a judge ordered the mother to return to Halifax with the child and find a place to live within one weekend, failing which, he would place the child in the father's interim care.
The mother said she was "in shock and panicked" and felt she had no way out of "this dark hole." She said she suffered a "psychotic break," which led to her attempt to poison her son in August 2018. Fortunately, the son survived, but the mother was arrested and incarcerated. The father gained sole custody of the child, and all contact between the mother and son was prohibited.
In September 2019, the parties agreed to a final consent variation order that outlined the father's primary decision-making authority and limited contact between the mother and son. The mother was sentenced to incarceration and probation, with any contact with the son subject to court supervision.
In 2021, the mother applied to vary the existing order. The matter progressed through various hearings, including requests for a Voice of the Child Report (VCR) and supervised visitation. The VCR was conducted, revealing the son's resistance to direct communication with his mother.
In H.P. v. P.P., 2023 NSSC 251, the mother asked the court for interim parenting time with her son through Veith House in Halifax, which provides a safe, child-centred environment professionally supervised by staff so that parents may visit with their children.
The mother argued that before the tragic incident in August 2018, she was the son's primary caregiver and had a very close relationship with him. She asserted that the 2018 incident took place during a time when her mental health was unchecked. She said it was a tragic situation of a loving mother suffering from a mental health crisis, making a terrible decision in one moment and having to learn how to live with the consequences of her action. She also asserted that the son needed to understand his Indigenous culture and heritage and that she was eager to expose and teach him about it.
The father strongly opposed the mother having interim parenting time at Veith House and anywhere else. He argued that he has been responsible for caring for the child since the 2018 incident and that the son has experienced prolonged stability. He said the son now has as "normal" a life as possible, given the trauma he was subjected to. He argued that the son's emotional and psychological well-being would be severely impacted if the court granted the mother's request.
The court noted that under the Divorce Act, the court must consider the child's best interests when making a parenting order. The court explained that conducting a best interests analysis is highly contextual because many factors may "impinge on the child's best interests."
The court noted that the mother applied for a variation order, and she carried the burden of establishing a "material change," which justified varying the order in the son's best interests. The current hearing was conducted as an "interim hearing" only. The court explained that, generally, one would not have an "interim variation hearing" of a final order. However, the court acknowledged that the case is an unusual one which has been treated, in some respects, unusually.
The court found that the child will turn 15 in October and is currently a happy teenager who has stabilized under the father's care over the last few years. The court also found that the child had no direct communication with his mother for nearly five years. He does not recall many parts of his childhood when residing primarily with his mother before the August 2018 incident. The court also noted that he could not articulate anything he had done or any positive memories of his childhood while living primarily with his mother.
After carefully considering the evidence, the law, and the parties' submissions, the court ultimately ruled that it was not in the son's best interests to have in-person parenting time with the mother through the Veith House or otherwise during the interim stage of the proceedings. Furthermore, the court said the existing contract provisions between the mother and son, as outlined in the 2019 consent variation order, should continue pending any final hearing.
The court found that the child's best interests require giving him adequate time to prepare for any reintroduction to the mother to ensure that he is appropriately supported and that any reintroduction be done carefully and positively.
The court further considered that the child went from being an innocent 10-year-old child who trusted and lived primarily with the mother to a teenager, close to 15 years old, who has exclusively lived with the father for the last several years. He has recently learned that the mother, whose job was to protect him, tried secretly to kill him by poisoning his dinner. The court noted that the child has not been given any meaningful opportunity to heal from the events of August 2018 or get any therapeutic assistance to help him process and deal with the trauma.
Accordingly, the court refused the mother's request for interim parenting time through Veith House or any other options for contact with the son. The court also made a finding of fact that it was in the child's best interests to order that therapeutic counselling for the son be pursued.