Mental health and addiction can be a terrible strain on any family. When parents are divorced or separated and those issues become problematic to the point where access to children is impacted, it can be a long and formal process for the parent suffering from addiction or mental health issues to show the courts they are rehabilitated. This is demonstrated in a recent decision from the Provincial Court of Alberta.
The family background
The parents were in a relationship from the spring of 2010 until the summer of 2012. They had one child, a boy, about six months before they separated. Both parents remain in Alberta, though they live over 400 km apart. The father lives with his parents, while the mother lives with her current husband and children.
In 2013 an order was issued that provided the father with supervised parenting time with the son. The rationale for the supervised access was born of the mother’s concerns around the father’s mental health as well as his use of alcohol and marijuana. The court noted that these concerns persist today. The court noted that the father’s mental health has led to his hospitalization from time to time. In the year the parties separated the father smashed the windshield of the mother’s vehicle for what the court described as “no apparent reason.” The mother said he had been hearing voices, but the father denied this. This led to the father’s hospitalization.
The father demonstrated some concerning behaviour following that incident. In 2014 during a period of hospitalization, he sent “random messages” to the mother during the night, and left a ring box on her doorstep with what the court described as “tightly wrapped $20 bills.”
The concerns around the father’s mental health were compounded by his use of drugs and alcohol. He has a number of impaired driving convictions and had been sent to rehab by his employer in 2017, but only stayed in the program for a week.
The father’s conditions begin to improve
Things started to turn around for the father in 2018 when he was placed on medication. While there were a few incidents related to phone calls and text messages at first, things began to substantially improve in the spring of 2019 when he was discharged from the hospital for the last time.
The father initially only had access to the child via Skype when COVID-19 hit. The parties arranged about eight of these conversations each week, with each one lasting about one hour. The mother allowed the son to have conversations with his father in the privacy of his bedroom. The father’s sister-in-law eventually provided supervision for in-person visits. She has children of her own and told the court that she “had not seen anything which would be a concern for her,” adding that she would allow the father to look after her own children if needed.
Is he really better?
A doctor told the court that the father “has struggled enormously to accept his mental health challenges and the need for ongoing treatment over the years…”
The father is currently receiving medication and the two doctors who testified said that he is safe and presents no risk to himself or others. However, the father disagreed with his diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder and claimed that his counsellor told him if he quit using drugs and alcohol he would improve without medication. The father claimed he has abstained from marijuana and alcohol for the last eight months, but hinted that he may have had consumed alcohol in April.
The court found that the father’s health has improved, but was concerned with his lack of commitment to rehab facilities and his failure to recognize his mental health issues. The courts stated that if he continues to follow the medical treatment suggested by his doctors, that his access could be expanded to full weekends in the fall if the doctors agree it is appropriate to do so.
At HMC Lawyers we understand that custody and access issues can be extremely difficult to navigate. That’s why we work personally with our clients to help them reach custody and access agreements that meet their needs as well as those of their children. We believe in working towards mutually agreeable solutions that reduce the expense and time associated with litigation. We can be reached online or by phone at 403-269-7220.