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Children suffer in acts of retaliation between parents

A judge’s harsh criticism of a Nova Scotia woman who changed her son’s last name without his father’s consent should serve as a caution to parents to think before they act, says Toronto family lawyer Patrick J. Aulis.

The case involved a child born in 2009 who was registered in the province under his biological father’s surname. Three years later, the mother remarried and changed her son's surname to that of her current husband, but failed to get permission from the boy’s father who found out in 2014 after obtaining a copy of his son’s birth certificate.

In her ruling, Justice Theresa Forgeron said the mother knew the biological father wouldn’t agree to the change and “therefore took matters into her own hands and sent a forged document to Vital Decisions.”

She called the mother’s conduct “devious, manipulative and indefensible” in arranging a forgery of the father's signature on an application to change her son’s name, reports the CBC.

Aulis tells AdvocateDaily.com that the judge’s strong words serve as a reminder to parents to check their motives and mind their children’s best interests — failing to do so will not be looked on favourably by the courts.

“In the judge’s own words, the evidence presented by the woman was ‘erroneous.' These situations come up where one parent wants to change the child’s name, and my feeling is our names are fundamental to our identities and changing a child's name must be confusing at the very least,” he says.

The case underscores the fact that the litigation process is designed to help families resolve their conflicts, but often has the opposite effect, destroying any pattern of co-operation that’s developed between the parents, Aulis says.

“People spend a great deal of money, and they end up attacking each other and often create problems where they didn’t exist before. My philosophy in family law is to help clients develop or rediscover a pattern of co-operation with each other, which puts the children front and centre,” he says.

When it comes to important family decisions, Aulis suggests parents project into the future and think about how they will explain their choices to their children when they’re older.

“Do you really want to have a conversation with your teenager or adult child about how you tried to change their name by faking their father’s signature? You’re setting yourself up for a situation that may inflict psychological harm on the child — and for what reason?” he says.

Parents in contentious breakups should also think twice before leaving angry voice mail, email and text messages for their former spouse, as it could end up as part of the evidence record in a trial, Aulis points out.

“I always remind clients who are thinking about sending an angry email or a text to remember that it might come in front of a judge as an exhibit. If you’re trying to convince the court you’re a reasonable, co-operative parent, that’s not going to help,” he says.

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