Let’s hope this bill passes am­i­ca­bly

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

For the first time in 20 years, Canada’s di­vorce leg­is­la­tion is get­ting an over­haul. Good.

Let’s just hope it’s the right kind of over­haul.

C-78, the re­cently in­tro­duced bill that makes the changes, has been de­scribed as deal­ing with a whole suite of is­sues, ev­ery­thing from re­lo­ca­tion of one par­ent to pro­vid­ing more tools to en­force child sup­port pay­ments to ways of han­dling di­vorces where fam­ily vi­o­lence is in­volved.

But two of them are crit­i­cal: es­tab­lish­ing that the needs of chil­dren first, and mov­ing di­vorce from the court­room to a less for­mal set­tle­ment fo­rum — be­cause both of those ar­eas are ones that turn sep­a­ra­tion and di­vorce into le­gal com­bat.

The ab­so­lute worst of the worst ex­am­ples are the cases that end up in the me­dia: di­vorc­ing cou­ples or fam­i­lies that ex­plode with ha­tred, us­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble dime of sav­ings and eq­uity to get back at each other.

Fam­ily law and di­vorce cases don’t all end up like a 2016 case in On­tario, where a judge ended up writ­ing in a ver­dict, “No mat­ter what costs or­der I make, the fi­nan­cial ruin can­not be un­done. They’ll never re­cover. Their eight-year-old daugh­ter’s fu­ture has been squan­dered. How did this hap­pen? How does this keep hap­pen­ing? What will it take to con­vince an­gry par­ents that nasty and ag­gres­sive lit­i­ga­tion never turns out well?”

The par­ents, of mod­est means, ended up owing their lawyers a com­bined to­tal of more than $500,000.

No, they don’t all end up that way, but many do.

There’s an­other tier of mis­ery that’s equally tragic. Read through ver­dicts in the di­vorce cases that make their way through the court process and there’s al­ways plenty of vin­dic­tive ac­tions. Ex-spouses, usu­ally fa­thers, who stop work­ing — or work for cash — to avoid pay­ing child sup­port. Spouses who use ac­cess to chil­dren as a weapon to try and hurt their ex-part­ners, ap­par­ently car­ing lit­tle for the ef­fect on their kids. Spouses who use claims for child or spousal sup­port as weapons in lit­i­ga­tion that on stretches for years. Spouses who refuse to abide by court or­ders to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about in­come.

Then there are the di­vorced cou­ples who march back to

Courts are ex­pected to treat par­ties like adults, even when they are clearly act­ing like spoiled and bit­ter chil­dren.

court reg­u­larly, de­mand­ing changes, im­prove­ments, ac­com­mo­da­tions. Courts are ex­pected to treat par­ties like adults, even when they are clearly act­ing like spoiled and bit­ter chil­dren.

There has to be a clear way to deal with changes in fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances with­out end­less and ex­pen­sive trips to court to vary court or­ders. And there has to be a clear un­der­stand­ing that the in­ter­ests of chil­dren in fam­ily law cases have to come first.

Many di­vorces, many that you don’t hear about, are han­dled with at­tempts at fair­ness and some­thing close to quiet dig­nity. Too many oth­ers bring out the ab­so­lute worst in peo­ple.

I wrote this a year ago — I could eas­ily have writ­ten it many times over: “The amount of time and ex­pense in­volved in set­tling fam­ily is­sues is huge. Since one-third of Canada’s first mar­riages end in di­vorce, govern­ments should put their minds to find­ing the best process pos­si­ble. And yes, ev­ery­one de­serves their day in court. But what about when that day is a month, or a year, or many years? Courts should never be al­lowed to be­come a weapon in some­one else’s bat­tle, just be­cause that per­son has enough money and spite to make the bat­tle last.”

The shame is that it has taken so very long to ad­dress is­sues so ob­vi­ous that frus­trated judges speak out about them from the bench on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

C-78 is a long and com­pli­cated bill that’s only started to move through Par­lia­ment. Let’s hope all sides de­cide to se­ri­ously ad­dress the clear is­sues, and leave pol­i­tics on the side­lines.

Just get it right.

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