Case Law: Temporary Parenting Orders and Religion

SMO v MJO, 2022 ONSC 5084

Written by: Yiwei Bian, Student Volunteer and Thijiba Sinnathamby, Staff Lawyer

This is an interesting court decision that addresses how to reconcile one parent’s desire to raise their children in their faith when the other parent is concerned about the faith itself and how its administration effects the children.

The mother sought temporary orders for sole decision-making responsibility, counselling, non-disparagement, parenting time, child support, financial disclosure and questioning.  On the day of the motion, the mother and father were able to settle all issues except for decision-making related to the children’s culture, language, religion and spirituality.

The mother and the father were married in 2011 and separated eight years later. There are two twin children of the marriage, both 8 years old. The children attend Catholic school. The mother is Catholic and works in the Catholic school system. In the mother’s affidavit, she notes that the children were baptized with the intention of being raised as Catholics. According to the father’s affidavit, he did not take issue with the children attending Catholic school but didn’t agree that they should “pursue the religion”. He refused consent for the children to attend in-person religious assemblies on multiple occasions but allowed the children to participate virtually due to COVID. He also denied the children taking First Communion.

The court dismissed the father’s concerns about Catholicism because it was clear that the concerns he raised did not contradict the children’s best interest. It appeared that the father simply used COVID as an excuse to prevent the children from attending in-person religious assemblies because of his own concerns about the faith.

In arriving at its decision, the court followed the general convention for temporary parenting orders – that the status quo should be maintained unless there are compelling reasons that require change to meet the children’s best interests. In this case, based on the fact that the children were baptized as Catholics, attended a Catholic school, and that the mother practiced Catholicism and the father was born Catholic, the court felt that the status quo of Catholicism as the children’s spiritual upbringing and heritage should be maintained (para, 31).

The court granted a temporary order in favour of the mother, so that she should have sole decision-making responsibility for all matters related to the children’s culture, language, religion, and spirituality.