A $2 Million Court Case Over Whether a Child Could Have Sleepovers at His Father’s House

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In the United States, there are about 13.7 million parents who have custody of 22.0 million children under 21 years of age, while the other parent lives somewhere else. Of these parents, about one in six are fathers, the majority of whom are divorced or separated (56.2%), while 24.5% are currently married or widowed, and 20.3% have never been married.

These custodial parents are often highly contentious about their custodial rights. One couple from Toronto has even spent $2 million in a protracted court battle. The issue? Whether the boy could spend nights at his father’s house.

The case, which is known as M. and F., lasted 34 days. The mother alleged that the father had been violent towards her, rendering him unsafe to his son, who is now six years old. The couple had an on-again, off-again relationship over the course of three years, during which time the mother said the father had attempted to strangle her during intercourse, ripped out her earrings, dragged her down stairs, and hit her in the face. The police were called once. The father had also been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, and a drinking problem.

Ultimately, the father won, and his son was allowed to sleep over his house. The original trial judge, Justice Kevin Whitaker of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, said he saw no reason to believe the overnight visits would be unsafe, despite these allegations, as the father was already raising three other children safely.

On the principle that the loser of the case pays, Whitaker ordered the mother to pay $500,000 towards the father’s legal costs, though he had asked for a whopping $900,000, while the mother wanted him to pay her a sum of $800,000. The appeal court, which affirmed the father’s victory, tacked on an additional $40,000 towards his appeal costs, though he had asked for $160,000, while the mother wanted him to pay her a sum of $120,000.

“It’s beyond comprehension how these kinds of costs could have been incurred [given the issue at stake],” lawyer Harold Niman, who wasn’t involved in the case, told The Globe and Mail in an interview. He also said the appeal court’s decision to uphold the $500,000 cost order made a powerful statement about using up judges’ time.

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