Your children’s safety comes first when a spouse’s drinking or drug use are driving you around the bend. You want your kids to enjoy their weekend visits with their mom. You just need to protect them from her risky behaviours.
Is Drinking Getting Out of Hand?
Shelagh is proud of her Gaelic heritage, but less so of her parenting skills. She knows her social drinking is out of control. She has a crisp Sauvignon Blanc pick me up over lunch at her Ottawa Carling Avenue office. A sip of a fruity Yellow Tail Riesling keeps dinner cooking right along. Night time is the right time for Pinot Grigio. Her hubby Heinz likes a glass here or there. What he doesn’t like is Shelagh’s excessive drinking. He moved out awhile ago and took the kids.
When Drinking Makes Your Children Unsafe
Heinz worries Shelagh is an unfit parent. Her weekend visits with six-year-old Kelly and Kevin, who’s eight, fill him with anxiety. Will she drink and drive? Could she pass out making dinner? He has visions of a kitchen fire consuming their home.
Child Access for an Unfit Parent
Heinz isn’t thinking of divorce. He’d like to get back together. Marriage is for better or worse, isn’t it? For now, he spends his coffee breaks cruising the Internet looking for an Ottawa family lawyer who can help him get a separation agreement with supervised access for visits. Recently, he landed at Axess Law family lawyers in Ottawa.
Who Gets the Kids When You Separate
Using an experienced family lawyer to draft a separation agreement helps sort out troublesome child access issues. The agreement is a legal contract between couples on where they will live, pay bills and support themselves. Most importantly, it sets out who will care for minor children and pets or support a young person through college. Making a mutually agreeable separation agreement is quicker and less distressing than going to family court.
Getting an Independent Legal Opinion
Since separation agreements are legal documents, both parents need independent legal advice before signing. Showing a draft to a family lawyer or socially distancing with a law office via video call is essential. Ontario courts look for informed consent if an informal agreement goes sideways.
Three Types of Child Access for Ontario Parents
Heinz has three choices for child access rights. Although their separation agreement is informal, he wants to follow Ontario family court rules, just in case they wind up in court later. He can negotiate with Shelagh for:
- Reasonable access — An open, flexible plan that gives both parents liberal and generous access. Shelagh and he can change their weekend or weekday plans if anything comes up.
- Fixed access — A specific schedule with detailed plans for holidays, weekends, birthdays, extended family get togethers and religious activities. That way Heinz can specify when Shelagh will have Kelly and Kevin, who picks up the kids and drops them off and any other conditions they agree on. He’s thinking of asking Shelagh to try AA for her drinking.
- Supervised access — In case Shelagh falls asleep at the wheel, Heinz wants a relative or her best friend to supervise her visits with Kelly and Kevin. Instead of weekend-long visits, he could limit her access to lunch and a movie at the mall on Saturdays. He’s not at the point of asking an Ontario supervised access centre to manage their visits, but that’s an option down the road.
No Access at All for Parents with Addictions
Some parents have no access at all, especially if the children’s safety can’t be protected by limiting or supervising visitation rights. It’s a drastic option that courts don’t take lightly and usually means the Ontario Children’s Aid Society is involved. Heinz doesn’t need that level of intervention.
When Family Court Gets Involved
Shelagh says she’s committed to controlling her drinking or stopping altogether. In a worst case scenario, Ontario family court might prevent her from seeing the children until she got help. So far, the kids are living with Heinz by mutual agreement. But Heinz could get sole custody with supervised access based on what a family court judge thought of:
- the stability of her home life
- the fact she has an untreated alcohol addiction
- her ability, financially or otherwise, to provide and care for the children.
DUI Affects Custody and Access in Ontario
Shelagh’s been lucky that she hasn’t had a DUI (driving under the influence charge). A DUI could seriously influence a judge’s opinion, since it means the children could be harmed while in her custody and control. She could be deemed unfit to make decisions on their behalf or even have visits alone with them.
Office of the Children’s Lawyer Gets Involved
Heinz has the best interests of the children, and their needs and wishes, at heart. Would the office Ontario Office of the Children’s Lawyer agree Shelagh does? If the office’s clinical investigators get involved, they could interview both parents and the kids, observe their interactions and prepare a custody and access report for the court. Schools, doctors, police, counsellors or day cares could all be asked about their family. Court-ordered social services might follow. What a mess.
Going to Mediation
Heinz could sidestep an investigation by arranging family mediation. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer typically won’t intervene if a psychological assessment or mediation is pending or ongoing. For the sake of their children, Heinz is trying to resolve their family problems on their own. It could be the best dispute resolution.
Legal Services by Video or In Person
Axess Law can meet with you 7 days a week, day or evening, at your convenience to discuss access and custody issues. Our family lawyers are available in person or by video conference across Ontario. Make an appointment by dialing toll free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form. In person appointments can be made in Toronto, Scarborough, Mississauga, North York, Vaughan, Etobicoke or Ottawa.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.