Advice – Some Good, Some Bad – From a Dad Who’s Been Through Family Court

April 6, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Still following Christie Blatchford who’s still following the nefarious doings of family courts in Canada (National Post, 3/30/17). This time she lets an unnamed father and veteran of a high-conflict divorce and child custody case do the talking for her. His goal is to advise dads who find themselves where he was not so long ago. To his credit, the man has joint custody of his child and calls himself the “spouse in the house.” I assume that means he was the one to remain in the family home post-divorce.

Much of what he advises is sound.

He wanted, more than anything else, “to find ways to limit the damage on my kids. That was and is my overriding goal.”

“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.”

Good so far. If every parent in divorce court kept the children’s welfare as his/her top priority, many of us could dust off our hands, congratulate ourselves on a job well done and move on to other things. But of course they don’t, so the beat goes on.

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.

Fine. Appearances are important, even if the courses themselves aren’t. If it takes attendance at parenting courses to convince a judge you’re a devoted parent, so be it. It’s a few hours out of your life and a few dollars out of your pocket. Perhaps you shouldn’t have to do such a thing to prove your parental bona fides, but do it anyway. There are battles worth fighting and those that aren’t; that’s one that isn’t.

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.”

Again, that’s good advice, but, in all honesty, what dad goes to court just because Mom was late dropping off the kids? I doubt that happens very often. Still the advice to not sweat the small stuff is sound, and not just in divorce court.

All that makes sense. At the same time, neophyte dads in family court may read the man’s advice and conclude that the only way to survive a child custody case is to roll over. Indeed, that’s his specific advice on child support.

“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.

Hmm. If he means that the child support guidelines are a matter of law that judges have no way to alter, he’s right. As I spelled out in my last post, the child support guidelines in Canada are outrageous in many ways, but that doesn’t allow judges to ignore them. So trying to get a judge to do so is indeed “demonstrating unreasonableness.”

But there’s much about child support that a father can fight and should. Jeramey A.’s experience is one obvious example. He had income imputed to him far beyond what he could earn. Should he have rolled over and played dead for that? Blatchford’s anonymous adviser would have us believe he should have, but there would have been nothing reasonable about his doing so.

Then of course there’s the fact that, if a person doesn’t raise an issue before the trial court, no appellate court will hear it. So, simply as a matter of legal procedure, dads need to raise justiciable issues.

“But in many cases, it is the actions of some men that have skewed the collective thinking of lawyers and jurists in Canada…”

Really? Needless to say, he has no evidence for his assertion. Plus, it assumes that, at some point prior to the actions of his putative “some men” all was fairness and justice for fathers in Canadian family courts. That of course is just not true. Fathers haven’t had an equal shot at custody since the invention of the Tender Years doctrine a hundred years ago. And what of the actions of “some women?” Are all mothers fair and reasonable in child custody matters? No. So why isn’t the system biased against them? Blatchford’s respondent doesn’t explain.

The simple fact is that the anti-father bias in family courts and family laws has nothing to do with the conduct of a few men who’ve behaved inappropriately in the conduct of their cases. It has to do with sex roles that are as ancient as humanity. And those sex roles are themselves products of our body chemistries that compel mothers to care for children and fathers to assist. The fight is to get lawmakers and judges to come to grips with the fact that children need both parents and that fathers aren’t less important to them than mothers just because they earned the money to shelter and feed them.

“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.

No. The notion that we can’t expect change until “all men grow up” is flat wrong. There will always be some men who don’t behave well in the course of a divorce and child custody action. They are not the problem. The problem is the frank bias of judges and the law against fathers and children. If we wait for some magical time to arrive at which all men will be model citizens, we will wait forever. Again, does the man believe all mothers are?

When he tells men to toe the line and behave as well as they can, he’s right. When he imagines that a few men failing to do so is the root of the problem men face in family courts, he’s dead wrong. I hope not too many men take away the wrong lessons from his commentary.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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