Sage words: ‘This con­flict will pass’

Lessons learned from 10 days in fam­ily law vor­tex

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - CHRISTIE BLATCH­FORD Na­tional Post cblatch­ford@post­

I’m an in­génue to the fam­ily court hor­ror show. Though twice-di­vorced my­self, the di­vorces were as am­i­ca­ble as pos­si­ble. In both in­stances, there were no chil­dren in­volved; my exes and I were still speak­ing and wished one an­other no ill will. Still don’t, so far as I know.

I men­tion this only be­cause, as I’ve dipped my toe into these roil­ing and shark­in­fested wa­ters of fam­ily law the past 10 days and been over­whelmed with email that breaks my heart, I was un­pre­pared. I had lit­tle idea how bad it was.

I’ve had hun­dreds and hun­dreds of notes; on a gen­der break­down, prob­a­bly 80 per cent are from men, 20 per cent from women.

I’ve heard from fam­ily court lawyers, some of whom are an­gry at my sug­ges­tions that fa­thers get the tough end of the stick in child cus­tody cases (though the ac­tual ev­i­dence is rea­son­ably clear that they do), some of whom say “the whole sys­tem is B.S … one of the first things out of my mouth when I see some­one is, ‘What’s your bud­get and how much does he/she dis­like you?’” I’ve heard from judges and for­mer judges and psy­chol­o­gists and coun­sel­lors.

With­out ex­cep­tion, they agree that the sys­tem is be­yond bro­ken.

But like most jour­nal­ists, while I can write about the prob­lems ad nau­seam, I’ve no ad­vice to of­fer, no sug­ges­tions how to make things bet­ter, no wisdom to im­part. But some peo­ple do. What fol­lows is from a fa­ther who sur­vived a high­con­flict pro­tracted di­vorce and ended up with joint cus­tody of his chil­dren and as the “spouse in the house,” as the jar­gon has it.

First, he says, he un­der­stands “more than most” that the sys­tem is un­fair to men.

“But in many cases, it is the ac­tions of some men that have skewed the collective think­ing of lawyers and ju­rists in Canada and with­out po­lit­i­cal will to ad­dress the prob­lems, an is­sue so charged that it makes pen­sion re­form seem mi­nor, men must be told how to deal with the sys­tem as it is.”

This man changed ca­reers so as to have a sta­ble pay­cheque. He wanted, more than any­thing else, “to find ways to limit the dam­age on my kids. That was and is my over­rid­ing goal.”

That leads him to the first rule: Re­mem­ber that fam­ily law is tem­po­rary. “You must al­ways act in a way that keeps in fo­cus your chil­dren will be adults soon and this con­flict will pass, even if it seems des­per­ate.

“Do noth­ing that makes it worse for your kids and you can know them and love them as adults, at their choos­ing, even if you couldn’t get every­thing you wanted when they were kids.”

If it’s true that fam­ily court is akin to a game, or war, a hockey fight, he says, “So what?

“Wars aren’t fair. It means men must stop be­liev­ing the sys­tem cares about them be­yond fol­low­ing the rules, the law ...

“No one cares how mean your ex was, how un­fair she was to you and so on … at the end of the day, the sys­tem can’t right wrongs, only process your case.”

He went once to Child Ser­vices to com­plain that his ex was ma­nip­u­lat­ing the kids, that they were suf­fer­ing by her parental alien­ation.

The so­cial worker told him: If she’s not turn­ing tricks or sell­ing crack and she’s feed­ing them, this case is not a pri­or­ity. He sucked it up. He took ev­ery court-man­dated sep­a­ra­tion course he could find; none of them helped, but tak­ing them helped him to ap­pear as he was, a mo­ti­vated, re­spon­si­ble par­ent.

“I learned what is im­por­tant and ac­cept that I will not get all de­ci­sions in my favour.

“For is­sues like child sup­port, I roll over and play dead, but if a man fights that, then he is only mak­ing his sit­u­a­tion worse and that can’t be good for his kids. He is demon­strat­ing un­rea­son­able­ness and that’s what gets men in trou­ble.

“Men must al­ways act rea­son­ably be­cause the sys­tem isn’t fair … So un­til all men grow up and pro­vide for their kids with­out ques­tion, we can’t ex­pect it to be­come bet­ter. A judge can­not vary what is owed to sup­port kids, so men must stop fight­ing to pro­tect what they can’t.”

The courts are “ripe for ex­ploita­tion, mainly by women who have no prob­lem be­ing un­fair and dis­hon­est. If you are tak­ing money from an­other hu­man be­ing through gov­ern­ment-im­posed ac­tion, why stop?”

Never miss a sup­port pay­ment. Don’t play games. Stay rea­son­able at all times so you don’t give your ex the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to come af­ter you.

Ac­cept the re­al­ity of your sit­u­a­tion, he says. “You are go­ing to be in con­flict with your ex all the time. A judge might see your case once a sea­son.

“Who’s bet­ter pre­pared to help you but your­self? You don’t want to be in court ev­ery month be­cause all that does is make it harder to feed your kids and re­ally, judges can’t make magic hap­pen … So what if she didn’t drop the kids off on time, or cut their hair wrong? “They’re not dead.” Men, he says, need to learn to avoid con­flict. “Don’t deny re­al­ity, ac­cept it. That’s the only way to sur­vive.”

This from a man who’s been there and made it to the other side.

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