The Power of Status Quo  

Within Family Law, the concept of status quo represents the existing and historical relationship between parties and children. Status quo within family law is a powerful tool in regards to potential decisions that a court will make related to temporary custody and residential arrangements. Courts have historically acted to foster and maintain status quo relationships within interim custody orders, as long as there are not clear reasons that necessitate change. As in all family law matters, these reasons will be directly based upon the best interests of a child. As a general rule of thumb, this would entail that where parties have separated, and one parent has since separation been the primary and status quo caregiver to a child, then the courts upon making an interim custody order will likely choose to maintain this existing situation unless there are clear reasons why the situation should be changed.

Why is Status Quo Important and when can it be overcome?

Status quo is highly valued within the family court system as it reflects an overall concept of fairness to the parties and the best interests of the children. In particular, it is generally agreed upon that it is in the best interests of children to have stable living arrangements under conditions that they are familiar and comfortable with. The courts have emphasized that from the perspective of stability it would go against the best interests children to change their residential arrangements when there exists a clear possibility that this residency will change again as a family matter progresses. It is for this reason that the courts will not disturb status quo situations on a temporary basis unless there are clear and obvious reasons why they should. Case law has established that reasons for disturbing the status quo would include indications that children are doing poorly under the care of a parent, indications and evidence related to serious mental health issues of a caregiver, or drug or alcohol related problems. Without evidence indicating these types of issues, status quo custody arrangements will typically continue on an interim basis.

Artificial Status Quo and the Pitfalls of Self-Serving Parents

There have been express concerns related to attempts by parents to take advantage of the benefits of Status Quo relationships by artificially creating them to the detriment of the other party. The courts have addressed this concern by establishing that a party who leaves the home with a child without sufficient cause should not be able to benefit or rely upon the newly created “Status Quo” arrangements. When parties have recently separated, courts shall often instead view the status quo as being when the family was still together, and the care giving relationships that were present at that time. Due to this, parents who attempt to artificially create a new status quo using self-help tactics and manipulative behavior in spite the best interests of a child, will be looked upon unfavorably by the courts when decisions are made related to custody arrangements.

By Adam Jaffer, Articling Student

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