Sage words: ‘This conflict will pass’
Lessons learned from 10 days in family law vortex
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.