Shared Parenting Not Appropriate Due to Mother's Substance Abuse
Cocaine use was a major factor in the discussion of parenting issues in a recent BC family law case.
In R.C.K. v. J.M.F.K., 2021 BCSC 1046. Master Keighley found that the mother's cocaine use had interfered with her ability to parent her two young daughters. To protect the children's health and safety, primary residence was awarded to the father on an interim basis and the mother's parenting time was significantly reduced from a roughly equal schedule to two days every other weekend.
Parents initially agree to shared parenting arrangement
The parties in R.C.K. v. J.M.F.K. were in a relationship for about 11 years. They started living together in 2010 and married on July 25, 2015. Together they had two children: Z., age four and a half, and R., age two. In September 2020 the mother announced that she wanted to separate from the father. After their separation, the parties continued to live under the same roof with the children.
They discussed a rotating schedule whereby the children would typically be with the mother on Mondays and Tuesdays, and with the father on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with each of the parties having the children with them on the weekend.
Although the parties agreed on a parenting schedule which they felt was in the best interests of the children in maximizing the contact that the children would have with each parent, the mother struggled to maintain the parenting schedule. She moved out in October 2020. From that point on, the father took on the bulk of parenting responsibilities by virtue of the mother's inability to function appropriately as a parent due to her drug addiction.
Father says shared parenting unworkable due to mother's drug problem
The father alleged that the mother's cocaine use made shared parenting impossible. The mother said the father's allegations were nothing more than yet another example of his attempts to control every aspect of her life.
In deciding applications with respect to parenting time, primary residence of the children, and the contact they should have with each parent, Master Keighley quoted lyrics from Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" and remarked that in his 17 years on the job, he could not recall a case in which cocaine figured so prominently in the discussion about parenting issues.
Numerous text messages showed that the mother failed to follow the shared parenting schedule; she was repeatedly unable to care for the children because of cocaine use, partying, and/or lack of sleep. On one occasion, the father saw a plate of cocaine on the kitchen table at the mother's house which could have been accessed by the older child if she had climbed on the chair. The parties' tenant provided an affidavit stating that she routinely observed the mother being neglectful towards the children.
Parenting arrangement must be in the best interests of the children
In considering the appropriate parenting arrangement, the Court is obligated to consider only the best interests of the children. Section 37(2) of BC's Family Law Act sets out a non-exhaustive list of factors to be considered:
(a) the child's health and emotional well-being;
(b) the child's views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them;
(c) the nature and strength of the relationships between the child and significant persons in the child's life;
(d) the history of the child's care;
(e) the child's need for stability, given the child's age and stage of development;
(f) the ability of each person who is a guardian or seeks guardianship of the child, or who has or seeks parental responsibilities, parenting time or contact with the child, to exercise his or her responsibilities;
(g) the impact of any family violence on the child's safety, security or well-being, whether the family violence is directed toward the child or another family member;
(h) whether the actions of a person responsible for family violence indicate that the person may be impaired in his or her ability to care for the child and meet the child's needs;
(I)the appropriateness of an arrangement that would require the child's guardians to cooperate on issues affecting the child, including whether requiring cooperation would increase any risks to the safety, security or well-being of the child or other family members;
(j) any civil or criminal proceeding relevant to the child's safety, security or well-being.
In the present case, the factors in paragraph (e) and (f) were of particular importance to the outcome. These young children had a very real need for stability, but Master Keighley had significant concerns about the mother's ability to function properly as a parent in light of her problem with cocaine.
The mother repeatedly let the children down and showed by her conduct that she is not up to performing her role as a parent. There was no doubt whatsoever that the children love their mother and that the mother loves the children. She simply lacked the ability to get past her problems with cocaine to effectively function as a parent.
Interim order made in this BC family law case
The children were noted to be happy, healthy, and safe with their father. Master Keighley was less certain, perhaps not of their happiness, but of their health or safety while in the care of the mother. As a result, Master Keighley ordered that, on an interim basis, the children have their primary residence with the father and that the mother, on an interim basis, have parenting time with the children every second weekend from Sunday at 10:00 a.m. until the Tuesday morning drop-off at daycare.
The mother was ordered to submit to hair follicle testing and urine testing at the request of and to be arranged by the father. Master Keighley ordered that the interim order with respect to parenting time may be reviewed after a successful follicle drug test.
Need legal advice on parenting arrangements?
If you need advice from a BC family lawyer with respect to a parenting arrangement or contact with a child, reach out to Valerie M. Little Law Corporation. Ms. Little is a family lawyer who has been practicing in BC for over 30 years.
Our law firm is exclusively devoted to issues of family law in Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster and throughout the Lower Mainland.
No matter what family law questions or issues you might be facing, you will receive practical advice, legal guidance and strategic direction at the office of Valerie M. Little. For more information about Valerie's family law office or to schedule a consultation with our family lawyer, please call us today at 604-526-3333.