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Judge rules mom is milking her parental rights with breastfeeding defence PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Kirk Makin   

If you refuse to wean, then get a machine, an Ontario Superior Court judge has told a mother who used her breastfeeding schedule as a technique to deny access to her baby's father.

Jennifer Johne and Carl Cavannah met at a wedding on Aug. 27, 2005. Their brief affair resulted in a baby girl being born on June 16, 2006.

After the child was born, Mr. Cavannah quit his job teaching special-needs children and moved to Collingwood, Ont., to be closer to his daughter. He started making voluntary child-support payments, took parenting courses and pored over baby books.

However, Mr. Cavannah's intensive efforts to become a fully involved parent were thwarted, in part, by a rigorous breast-feeding schedule imposed by Ms. Johne.

"The child is now more than 29 months of age and is still being breastfed," Mr. Justice Alan Ingram wrote in an eight-page ruling.

"Jen believed strongly - through medical advice - in the merits of breastfeeding. However, the breastfeeding has a secondary impact upon Carl in that it is used as an excuse to restrict his access."

Judge Ingram quoted from an e-mail that Ms. Johne, a 35-year-old artist, sent to Mr. Cavannah shortly after the baby was born.

"A baby belongs with its mother, and if you had an understanding of the needs of a fully breast-fed baby and truly had [her] interests at heart, you would not be bringing this subject up again," she stated in the e-mail.

Given her intransigence, Judge Ingram said that Mr. Cavannah, 42, had been remarkably patient.

"Jen has been unwilling to give a timetable as to when the breastfeeding will end," Judge Ingram said. "But now, the time has come for Jen to have greater consideration for the relationship between the child and Carl. If she used a breast pump and provided the milk to Carl, he would be willing to give it to [the child]."

The judge also praised the child's parents. "She has two parents who have made her the centre of their lives, unusual in that this was an unplanned pregnancy between two parents who had a brief relationship and had not committed to having children," he said.

Under the Children's Law Reform Act, a mother and father are equally entitled to custody of a child. When an access dispute breaks out, judges use a list of criteria to determine whether or not to depart from an equal-access regime.

Judge Ingram ruled that Ms. Johne and Mr. Cavannah's child would be best served by a 50/50 access arrangement.

"As soon as Jen realizes that she is one of two equal parents and the parties find a form of communication, they should be able to get on with their common goal of facilitating and encouraging [the child] to reach her full potential," he said.

Phil Epstein, a family lawyer expert, described the ruling as "one which will be of comfort to involved fathers who wish to be equal parents."

Mr. Cavannah declined to discuss the case, and Ms. Johne could not be reached for comment.

However, Ms. Johne's lawyer, Carol Allen, noted in an interview that it is very difficult to argue in favour of a continuation of breast-feeding after a child is two years old since pumping is a viable alternative.

Ms. Allen said that her client may soon be returning to court because she is dissatisfied with Judge Ingram's solution to the access issue.

"The schedule allowed the father to work four days a week, and then have the child from Thursday to Sunday or Monday night," Ms. Allen said. "That leaves the mom with no weekend time. It is probably going to have to be revisited. It's unfortunate."

Ms. Johne lives in a small town about 20 minutes from Collingwood, where she helps her mother operate a small daycare.

 



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