N.S. couple battle over young daughter’s schooling

A graphic shows a family after divorce.
A graphic shows a family after divorce. Stock photo by Getty images.

Back to school means back to the courts for one Nova Scotia couple.

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (family division) has issued an interim relief decision to end an estranged couple’s battle over whether their 5-year-old daughter should be enrolled in a French immersion or an English program this September.

An interim relief order is a court order that deals with important matters such as child custody and support when couples separate. It remains in force until the divorce is properly finalized.

See: Getting a Divorce — FAQ

Justice Lester Jesudason reviewed each parent’s choice of school for their daughter to determine what is in the child’s best interest. The decision uses pseudo names to refer to parties’ names. The father is “Mr. J.” The mother is referred to as “Ms. K” and the child is “S”.

Mr. J lives in Halifax and is a naval officer. Ms. K, a web designer, lives with her son, “C,” from her first husband and S in Tantallon, N.S., about a 40-minute drive from Halifax.

Mr. J and Ms. K have joint custody of S while their divorce proceeding is taking its course.

The father wanted S to be enrolled in Saint Catherine’s Elementary School in Halifax in the Early French Immersion Program this September. He alternatively wanted his kindergarten-aged child to attend any other elementary school in Halifax with or without a French program.

The mother preferred S attend the Tantallon Junior Elementary School English Program.

Mr. J believed a French education would open doors for S in terms of future employment opportunities. He also preferred a school in Halifax, because his wife’s choice of school opens at 8:25 a.m. and he would have to wake S up at 6 a.m. to drive her to Tantallon. This, he argued, would make him late for work.

Ms. K argued a French immersion program would inhibit her ability to assist her daughter with homework because Ms. K did not speak French. She preferred that S attend French intensive courses and French camps on the side to augment her English-based education. Ms. K stressed that she moved to Tantallon because of this local elementary school and Mr. J had initially agreed. She also felt that C and S had a close relationship that would be negatively impacted if the two children attended different schools. Ms. K was already familiar with Tantallon school teachers and staff and planned to volunteer there alongside S’s maternal grandmother.

Justice Jesudason explained that the province’s Divorce Act clearly stipulates that for proceedings where children are involved, the only test is “the best interests of the child.” This means parental preferences and rights play no role. Put another way, courts should not engage in scoring parents’ choices based on random factors. The judge added that this process is uniquely delicate because no one can determine with 100-percent certainty what is best for the child.

The judge pointed out that the parties had provided the court with a lot of information on the history of their relationship. However, they had failed to provide the judge with information on S, such as her emotional and intellectual development, her linguistic abilities and her general ability to adapt to new situations.

The judge ultimately decided that it is in S’s best interests to attend Tantallon Elementary School English Program. S and C could travel on the same school bus alongside S’s other friends from the Tantallon community, which would cause the least amount of disruption to her life. Moreover, S’s grandmother could assist with before and after school care if S attended a school in Tantallon. There was no evidence presented on how enrolling S in a French program in Halifax would be in her best interests.

The outcome of this case tells parents to think long and hard about what is in the best interest of the child and not what is convenient to them.

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