Scary Statistics!

Two weeks ago Statistics Canada released a Report with some scary statistics for divorcing and separating couples. While the report did mention an overall decline in divorces for the period from 2005 to 2008, what caught my eye was the fact that 25% of divorce files took 2 years, or more, to conclude, which is downright scary!

Of that 25% there are no doubt spouses, already relieved to be living separate and apart, where there is little motivation to pursue a divorce. There will also be those who decide, for financial and/or emotional reasons, to put the divorce on hold.

But what about everybody else? And more importantly, if you are separating, or separated, what can you do to avoid becoming enmeshed in divorce proceedings for 2 years or more? Here are some helpful tips.

Firstly, you need to understand the divorce process, and your legal rights. Let me begin by dispelling one of the most common myths I hear in my family law practice. Namely, obtaining a divorce is easy, all that you and your ex need to do is (typically) wait a year, and then file for divorce, or have a divorce service file the papers. Since you both agree to a divorce, it’s no problem.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You and your ex need to address, and resolve, all outstanding legal matters, ie custody, support, division of assets, etc, before, a judge will grant a divorce. So, the sooner you start this process, the better, and don’t schedule any marriage dates with your new partner in the meantime.

Although as I mention this, I did meet a client last week, who said he had been divorced for several years, without having matters finally settled. This is extremely rare in my experience, and while I don’t know for sure, it suggests that the divorce service which filed his divorce papers may not have followed proper procedures. In any event because these matters were not settled when they should have been settled, any possible legal impact on this client’s legal rights and responsibilities will need to be re-assessed, resulting in more legal costs and expenses.

Secondly, I encourage you to explore any one of several alternatives to legal action, which, if successful, can drastically reduce divorce time, and cost. Personally, I believe mediation, or my favorite, collaborative divorce can work wonders, even in situations which appear irresolvable.

Lastly, and most importantly, is to remember that any legal proceeding is not the appropriate forum to punish your ex for past misbehavior. In other words, you need to try and keep your emotions, separate and apart, from your legal rights and responsibilities.

If you disregard this last bit of advice any realistic hope of a negotiated, or mediated, settlement will disappear, and you will ultimately leave your future fate in the hands of a judge. And any judge will not decide your legal issues on the basis of a personality contest.

There you have it. Three tips to prevent you from becoming just another scary statistic!

Poison Control

Don’t risk becoming the “hated parent” to your own children, as a result of your separation or divorce.  Learn the antidote to poisoned minds, and counter the negative impact of “parental alienation syndrome”.

It’s an area of family law which both as a parent, and a family lawyer, I find most troublesome, and frustrating.  Of course, I’m referring to the often bitterly contested issues of custody and access.

Children often become mere pawns, manipulated by one, or the other spouse, to suit their own legal agendas.  It’s something which has come to be called “parental alienation syndrome.”  It’s a condition whereby children are essentially programmed by one parent, the “loved parent,” to reject, and despise, the other parent, the alleged “hated parent.”

Tactics used by a parent can include both conscious, and subconscious, techniques to “poison” a child’s mind against the other parent.

How do you recognize this syndrome?

There are several key characteristics.  Typically, a child will constantly denounce the “hated parent,” and, if asked to explain, such negative feelings will be unable to provide any rational explanation.

There will also be an unquestioned, and absolute approval, of the “loved parent,” including sharing the “loved parent’s” description for the “hated parent.”  In addition, the description of the “hated parent” will often appear to be consistent, and unchanging, suggesting that the child has been coached, or prompted, by the “loved parent” to provide a negative description.

Finally, and perhaps most damaging of all, the “loved parent” professes that the child’s own wishes, and views, must be respected, including their desire not to see the “hated parent.”

While in my own experience, courts have been slow to recognize and address this syndrome, there may be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel.  An Ontario Superior Court Justice fined a woman $10,000.00 for “poisoning” the minds of her children, against their loving father.

Specifically, the woman, the custodial parent, had refused to comply with several orders, which required her, to facilitate contact between the children and their father, and to undertake family counseling.

The court could also have awarded sole custody of the children to the father, but felt such action was not appropriate, since the youngest child, now 16, was “so attached” to the mother, and soon to be fully independent.

Unfortunately, as this case readily demonstrates, once the emotional and psychological damage is done, there is no force on this earth strong enough to compel a child to maintain, or develop, a relationship with the other parent, regardless, of how loving, or well meaning, that parent may be.

What do I recommend as an “antidote” for such “poisoned minds?”

Firstly, if you and your spouse are separating, or divorcing, keep the legal matters out of court, if possible.  Going to court creates considerable stress and pressure on both parents, and children.  Minimizing both, may help salvage your short, and long term relationship, with your spouse, and children.

Secondly, I recommend counseling for all parties.  If you are an employee, your employer may have a benefits program which provides personal and family counseling.  If it does, take advantage of it.  In most cases, it will be free of charge, as well as being confidential.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, I believe changes in the Divorce Act are urgently required.  Changes such as removing the divisive term “custody,” and replacing it with a more neutral, but vital, concept such as “parental responsibility.”

But rather than address this particular issue, which has been researched to death, and potentially impact thousands of separating, and divorcing families, each year, the Federal Government has other priorities.

It’s no surprise many doubt the Federal Government’s commitment to families, me among them.

The contents, opinions, and observations, contained in Scott Taylor’s Kitchen Table Divorce, are strictly intended for general information and entertainment purposes only, and are not intended to be relied upon, or to replace, legal advice.

It is recommended you obtain legal advice from Mr. Taylor,(604-534-6361or info@underappeal.com), or another lawyer, with respect to your specific jurisdiction, and legal circumstances.