What would your life look like if you were engaged in protracted family law litigation requiring more than fifty court appearances before 28 different Judges and Masters of the Court, over a period of 15 years?
“Hell on earth” would be an apt description for Laura Koch and Graham Underhill, the divorced parents of two children who have used the British Columbia Supreme Court as their public battleground since 1997.
In reviewing Mr. Justice Grove’s Reasons (2013 BCSC 1889), several aspects of Koch v. Underhill are noteworthy. Firstly, their legal rollercoaster began with an ex parte or without notice application to the court, wherein Ms. Koch received interim custody of the children who were ages three and one. A variety of restraining orders were also put in place barring Mr. Underhill from any activity that involved his wife and children.
In numerous posts I have decried the damage done when parents go to court behind their partner’s back to obtain life-changing orders, a practice that in my opinion usually leads to ugly, soul-destroying litigation, just like it did here.
As is typical in cases such as these, a succession of court hearings quickly followed the initial ex parte hearing, resulting in a more balanced order that saw the ex parte order set aside, the interim custody order deleted, and joint guardianship ordered.
Ten months later the parties agreed to share joint custody and equal parenting of their children, but by this time they had been back to court seven more times.
Another trigger that often leads to high-conflict in family law cases are allegations of mental illness and substance abuse. In 2002 the Koch v. Underhill litigation machine wound up again resulting in orders for production of psychiatric files, medical intervention, and a change in the equal parenting arrangement, with the children ordered to live primarily with their father.
The third significant factor in this case was Mr. Underhill’s longstanding refusal to provide proper financial disclosure, a situation that is often referred to as the “cancer of matrimonial litigation”.
Mr. Justice Groves remarked that despite Mr. Underhill’s “limited” disclosure it was apparent he was a very wealthy individual, which brings up the fourth element often found in marathon family law litigation, a litigant with “deep pockets”.
Through much of the litigation Mr. Underhill was represented by counsel, while Ms. Koch acted for herself, after her resources ran dry.
The Koch/Underhill saga is a textbook treatise that shows how warring spouses/parents can ruin their lives…and for what? To win? What about their children and the psychological damage they have inflicted on them? It is shameful…
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang