“We are both reasonable people. I really think we can work this out without spending 40 to 50 thousand dollars apiece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves. Please, I’m begging you to be reasonable.”
You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when a judge begins a written decision with a quote like this. It is from an email by a father wanting to see more of his young daughter. The judge went on to quote the mother three years later, after protracted and brutal litigation: “This trial,” she wrote, “has been financially disastrous for both parties.”
Describing the case as an “overwhelming tragedy,” the judge noted that these “nice, average people” somehow managed to spend more than half a million dollars on lawyers. “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?”
Perhaps the answer lies with the losing party, the mother, who doesn’t seem like such a “nice, average person” after all. According to the judge, she was “obsessive, controlling and exclusionary,” often motivated by “spite and self-interest,” and displayed “a profound lack of insight and fairness.” She “set out to demolish the father’s relationship with his daughter. It backfired.”
It all could have been avoided, and should have been avoided, said the judge. “Courts have an obligation to deliver that message, so parents will stop pretending that hard-ball custody litigation is ‘for the sake of the child.’ ”
There are a host of professionals to help you “reign it in” and avoid this devastating scenario. These include social workers, parenting co-ordinators, mediators, and collaborative professionals, to name a few. So — before embarking on a lengthy, expensive court battle at the expense of your children’s well-being, not to mention their future post-secondary tuition, try and really put their best interests first.
For a durable and responsibly-negotiated separation agreement, contact Shirley Levitan.
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Bill Rogers is a Toronto-based lawyer, journalist, and family law mediator