An Ontario family court judge recently made an interim (i.e. temporary) decision on which separated parent ought to bear the costs of transporting two children to and from school after the mother chose to move in with a new partner outside of the school district.

The Parties

The couple at issue had separated after 12 years of marriage. They had two children, aged 12 and 14, both attending school. Both children resided with their mother after the separation. The mother continued to live in the matrimonial home after the father moved out. The children continued to attend the same school, within the same school district as the matrimonial home.

The mother eventually chose to relocate to her new partner’s home, with the children, which was about 10 kilometres away from the children’s current school. The father applied to the court to have the children continue to attend the same school, and the judge decided it would be best for the children to continue to attend their old school, at least for the remainder of the academic year, which was just beginning at the time of the decision.

The Dispute

Due to the distance between the mother’s partner’s home and the children’s school, the children were allowed a cross-district transfer to comply with the judge’s decision; however, the school board would not pay for their transportation to and from school.

The father argued that the mother should be required to pay the costs, which he estimated at $110 a day, for a private transportation arrangement. He argued that since the mother had unilaterally decided to move out of the children’s school district, outside the availability of school transportation, she should be liable for the additional costs of transportation. The father further argued that in the past, he had driven the children to school, but his work situation had changed, and he could longer continue to do this, considering the distance.

The mother disagreed, arguing that the parties’ separation agreement obliged both of them to split the costs of the childrearing, and that this was a cost they should both share. She also argued the transportation costs outlined by the father were unreasonable, and cheaper options were available.

The Decision

At trial, the judge found, in determining interim relief that the transportation costs did indeed fall within the reasonable grounds of the separation agreement, and that both parents should split the cost of the children’s travel to and from school.

The Language in the Separation Agreement

The judge noted that the separation agreement did not contain any provisions:

  • preventing the mother from moving within the city the parties resided in;
  • requiring the mother to remain in the children’s former school district;
  • requiring the mother to be solely responsible for any costs that may result from neither parent residing in the children’s former school district.

The judge therefore, went on to say:

I do not find that the [mother] is solely responsible for all of the costs associated with the children continuing to be able to attend school in their old school district, which is effectively what the [father] is seeking. If the parties had intended such an obligation to flow from the terms of the Separation Agreement, they needed to do so expressly. They did not.

The Mother’s Decision to Move

The judge noted that in the past both parties benefited from the mother maintaining a residence within the children’s school district, but the fact that she was no longer living there did not mean that she had to bear any increased costs of transporting the children to school.

Unreasonable Costs Cited by the Father

Additionally, the judge noted that she was not persuaded that the reasonable and necessary costs associated with transporting the children would be significant, especially since the father appeared to be working part time and had previously had the flexibility to transport the children directly to school in the mornings.

The fact that the father’s work schedule may have changed, affecting his ability to drive the children to school did not mean that the mother was responsible for any increased costs as a result.

Call for Better Communication Between the Parents

During the discussion on who should pay the costs of the motion, the judge also chided the couple, suggesting with better communication between parties, the appeals to the court could have been avoided:

It is apparent from the evidence before me that these motions could have been avoided if both parties were more effective at communicating with each other in a constructive manner. As such, I order that each party shall bear their own costs of the motion before Justice Roger on July 10, 2018 and the motion before me today.

This is helpful advice for any parent involved in an ongoing dispute with a former spouse or finalizing  a separation or divorce. Cooperation is sometimes the better course of action, and can avoid additional headaches, unnecessary motions, and a delayed final outcome.

At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum can ensure that you meet your child support obligations, while maintaining financial stability, and protecting your assets. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.