Should a Child Have His/Her Own Lawyer in Custody Cases?

DSC00280The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently answered the question posed above in a case where a father asked the court to appoint a private lawyer for his two children, where he also sought to increase his parenting time with them. (Mader v. McCormick 2018 ONCA 340)

The parties separated in 2010 and negotiated a parenting schedule that gave the children’s mother primary residence with the father having overnight access every second weekend and after school access 4 nights a week. In 2013 the father sought additional parenting time and the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) was appointed by the court to represent the children. The OCL is a government agency in Ontario that is available by court appointment to act on behalf of children in family law, child protection and estate cases.

The OCL advised the children’s father that after speaking with their clients they ascertained the children were not in favour of additional time with their father. The father then abandoned his application.

In 2015 the father retired and with more leisure time again advanced a claim to have additional parenting time. He also requested the appointment of the OCL but his request was denied.

In 2016 the father took another stab at his desire to have more parenting time, however, this time he asked the court to appoint a private lawyer to represent his children who were both now young teenagers. Two lower courts denied his request for the appointment of a private lawyer for multiple reasons including their reliance on the children’s feelings about additional access as conveyed to the OCL two years earlier; the absence of any behavioural or academic issues that might indicate unhappiness with the current schedule; and the possible embarrassment of a further investigation involving their teachers and other collaterals.

The lower courts also expressed concern that the father’s request for private counsel was not “child-focused” and would burden the children with questions when they had already expressed their wishes.

On appeal from the lower courts the father cited the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, arguing that the Convention obliged the court to appoint counsel for them. Article 12 of the Convention reads:

1. State parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of natural law.

The appeal court confirmed that the appointment of counsel for children is a discretionary decision which should focus on the best interests of the child and deference should be afforded to a motion judge’s assessment of such an appointment. Ultimately, the appeal was dismissed.

The Court referred to Reynolds v. Reynolds 1996 ONSC 7273 where Fleury J. said:

“This remedy [appointing a lawyer for the children] should not be available only for the asking. In as much as it implicates the children very directly in the entire litigation, it is a very blunt instrument indeed. It can cause untold harm to impressionable children who may feel suddenly inappropriately empowered against their parents in a context where the children should be protected as much as possible from the contest being waged over their future care and custody. All actions involving custody and access over children should be governed by one paramount consideration: no one should be allowed to act in a way that might endanger their well-being. The test of “the best interests of the children” as insipid and fluid as it might be, still remains the benchmark against which any person wishing to interfere in their lives should be measured.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

GUEST POST: TIPS FOR SEPARATING PARENTS

No couple imagines that the vows they once exchanged would cease to ring true one day. But we are all human, and things happen. Relationships dissolve. Divorce is hard for every couple that has to go through the process, especially those who had children together.

At the end of the day, you both want what is best for your children, but often that can get lost in the hurt and anger that surrounds the separation. However, with hard work and patience, you can have a healthy relationship with your ex, and you both can be happy with the new arrangement.

Blended families work best when a divorce happens and small children are involved. You both need to be on the same page parent-wise, while also moving on with your lives in other aspects. Despite what you may think, this can be done.

Working toward a happy arrangement with your ex, and each other’s future spouses, creates a happy environment for everyone. Plus, your kids will be relieved that you aren’t at each other’s throats. A happy divorce happens when the separated couple can at least speak to each other in a civilized manner while sharing custody and a role in their children’s lives.

Jumpstart the process to a happy divorce with these steps:

  1. Visualize Your Goal

Think of how you wish the relationship to be with your ex. This could means anything from interacting cordially when dropping the kids off, to vacationing together. Make a realistic goal for your circumstance.

  1. Create a Pause

Before interacting with your ex, gauge your emotions and what you expect would be your emotional reactions when you see him or her. Identify your problem areas and what you believe you need to work on. Calm yourself before the face to face, and teach yourself certain tricks to stay cool and collected, rather than blowing up out of anger. Preparing yourself on what to expect and how to react will help you to remain calm when it is actually go-time.

  1. Think Positively

Positive thinking can go a long way. Every conversation will probably not go smoothly, but, with a positive outlook, you will be able to better work toward your goal of achieving a happy divorce.

  1. Persistence

Along with your positive mindset, you will need persistence. There will be tough times and obstacles, but you cannot let that get you down. Also, try not to let your ex’s personal actions get to you.

Perhaps they seem to be moving on faster than you, or have had a better success at bouncing back financially. Don’t let these insignificant things trigger your ugly side. You don’t want your kids to witness an altercation, nor do you want to disrupt the mutual arrangement to strive for a happy medium.

  1. Keep the End Goal in Mind

Remember that, in the end, this is all for your children. Never take your eyes off that prize. You two are the adults here, so suck it up and work hard to set good examples for your kids. Divorce isn’t what greatly affects children – it’s the way the divorce was handled.

 Guest Post from Atlanta, Georgia family law boutique firm Naggiar & Sarif

Naggiar and Sarif LLC focuses exclusively on  Family and Divorce Law litigation. They provide unparalleled and personalized legal counsel to those facing family law  issues and have earned numerous awards and distinctions.

Judge Says “NO” to Grandparents Who Want to Take Their Grandchild to Church

They say it “takes a village to raise a child” but the law is clear in Canada that a child’s parents or guardians are the sole arbiters of who in the “village” may participate and what a villager can say or do with their child.

This week a Vancouver judge refused to permit the grandparents of a 4-year-old child to take their grandchild to church (Kingdom Hall) or discuss religion with their grandchild. (AR and BR v. MW and LR 2015 BCPC 0285)

The child’s mother had a brief sexual encounter with the grandparent’s son, who apparently neglected or ignored his legal and moral obligations to his infant baby and was never in a relationship with his child’s mother. However, his parents pursued a relationship with their grandchild with the agreement of the child’s mother and eventually had their grandchild stay in their home 2 or 3 days a week.

Early on it came to mother’s attention that her child’s paternal grandparents were taking the child to church with them and showing her videos about their faith. Initially, mom was reticent to voice her concerns, but later she told them she would prefer they not take the child to church.

Instead of complying with the request, they continued to proselytize and take the child to church. This caused the child’s mother to disallow the grandparents to have contact with the child on church days and later, mother reduced the grandparent’s contact to one supervised visit per month.

At this point the grandparents hired a lawyer and brought a court application to be permitted to take their grandchild to church and discuss their faith with the child. Their first mistake was alienating the child’s mother by ignoring her requests. The second was filing a court action to obtain what mother would not agree with.

While we hear the public and media talk about “grandparent’s rights”, the truth is they really have no rights at all. Although the Family Law Act in British Columbia and the federal Divorce Act allow for “persons” to apply for access or “contact” as it is called in BC, without willing parents the applications usually fail.

Why do they fail? Because of the way judges have interpreted the laws allowing grandparents to apply to have a relationship with their grandchild. Some of the longstanding legal principles that are used to oust grandparents from a grandchild’s life include:

1. It is the right of the child to have a relationship with a grandparent, not the right of a grandparent;

2. Parents and guardians are the only parties who have the “responsibility” (notice I didn’t use the term “rights”) to make decisions for their children;

3. There is a presumption in law that in the absence of clear evidence suggesting otherwise, parents and guardians are presumed to know what is in their child’s best interests and are entitled to implement or terminate certain activities.

4. The very fact there is a dispute between a parent and a grandparent is often sufficient in and of itself to limit or bar access to a grandparent on the theory that such a conflicted relationship will destabilize the child and is not in his or her best interests.

5. Religious freedoms enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides no assistance to shut-out grandparents, as the Charter does not apply to private disputes.

So what can a grandparent do? In cases where the grandparent’s child is the biological parent of a grandchild, it is only through their influence on their child that their views may be expressed and again, only if their child agrees with them. Most cases are like this one, however, and involve situations where the grandparent’s child is not on the scene or has abdicated parental responsibility. In these cases it is useless to buck the remaining parent or guardian’s views, unless they can be shown to be potentially harmful to the child and not in the child’s best interests.

If grandparents want to maintain a relationship with a grandchild, they must often “bite their tongues”, put on a “happy face” and take comfort in the knowledge that children are influenced by their grandparents, even if church and faith discussions are not allowed…and children turn into independent adults.

Kelly Rutherford Custody Case Rife With Misinformation

GEO#1Kelly Rutherford is an American actress who began her career in daytime soap operas, later moving to primetime network television in Melrose Place and Gossip Girls. However, she is much more famous today for her custody battle with ex-husband, Daniel Giersch.

Her court case has enraged media pundits who are slamming the family courts in California and New York, expressing outrage that Kelly Rutherford’s two American-born children were ordered to live in Europe with their father, an alleged breach of their constitutional rights. But if the television “experts” actually knew anything about custody law they would understand that it’s not the courts who are to blame, it’s Ms. Rutherford’s wrongheaded strategy.

A little background… Rutherford had a six-month first marriage and then married German businessman Daniel Giersch in August 2006. Their first child, Hermes Gustaf Daniel Giersch, was born in October 2006. Rutherford was two-months pregnant with their second child when she filed for divorce from Giersch on December 30, 2008

A custody battle immediately ensued with Mr. Giersch alleging his wife refused to tell him the expected birthdate of their daughter, Helena. After her birth she restricted his parenting time and also failed to register him as the father on her birth certificate. Rutherford either had bad legal advice, or more likely, ignored the advice she received. A sure way to sabotage a custody claim is to deny access and purposely decline to name the child’s father on the birth certificate.

But after seven months of legal wrangling in the California courts the couple agreed they would both live in New York City so Ms. Rutherford could continue with her work on Gossip Girls, an agreement that would expire in April 2010.

In 2012 the matter of final custody was adjudicated, resulting in an order that the two children live with their father in either Monaco or France. During the court proceedings, evidence was presented that showed that Ms. Rutherford contacted United States immigration resulting in Mr. Giersch’s expulsion from the United States. A wrongheaded strategy that clearly backfired on Ms. Rutherford. If her former husband had been permitted to remain in the United States it is unlikely she would have spent a million or more dollars fighting over custody and also avoided going personally bankrupt.

Trial evidence included reports that Ms. Rutherford’s work commitments, including twenty-hour work days, led to Mr. Giersch playing “Mr. Mom” in his wife’s absence. The judge also criticized Ms. Rutherford for misleading the court with respect to her work schedule and was unimpressed with her unwillingness to facilitate access. All good reasons to prefer Mr. Giersch as primary resident parent.

Ms. Rutherford went back to the California courts to change the custody order but the court ruled they no longer had jurisdiction. Neither of the parties lived there; Ms. Rutherford lived in New York while her ex-husband lived in Europe and neither of the children resided in California.

Happily for Ms. Rutherford, the children were with her for the summer of 2015.

Her lawyer then brought an application to the New York courts seeking an order that the children remain with her in New York. Unfortunately, the court declined jurisdiction on the basis the children were now habitually resident in Monaco, and only the Monaco court could make orders regarding the children.

In her latest strategic misstep, Ms. Rutherford refused to return the children to their father, causing the New York court to step in and order her and the children to appear in court where Mr. Giersch’s mother took custody of the children and returned them to her son.

It’s a familiar story: parents really have only one opportunity to obtain or retain custody or primary residence of their children. If they make mistakes, like Ms. Rutherford did, the chance of a change in residence is extremely remote. Her next best opportunity is when the children are able to speak for themselves, usually around the age of 13, but only if they want to live with their mother.

In the new world of shared parenting, mothers do not have a monopoly on child custody. That’s the past…this is the present…and the future.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

No Gender Bias in Family Courts Says Irish Academic

GEO CASUALA key finding in a new report on gender bias in family courts declares there is no indication of gender bias in contested cases about where a child should live.

The May 2015 report authored by Dr Maebh Harding, from the University of Warwick and
Dr Annika Newnham of the University of Reading is based on a document analysis of a retrospective of 197 case files from five county courts in England and Wales over a six month period in 2011. Of the 197 cases, 23 were custody disputes between a parent and another relative, usually a grandparent.

In the “two parent cases”, fathers initiated 70% of the applications, whereas only 30% of the cases started with an application by a mother.

The most common type of court application was for an order to allow contact or access, making up 41% of their sample. Fathers brought 96% of all access applications. The majority of these applications were made in order to initiate or restart contact.

Applications which sought a sole residence order made up 43% of the sample. Similar numbers of applications for sole residence were made by fathers (32) and mothers (30) but their reasons for going to court differed.

Joint custody and joint residence applications amounted to only 7%.

Notably, in 2011 there was no presumption in the British law that the involvement of a non-resident parent would further a child’s welfare. In 2014 this presumption was added to the governing statute, the Children Act 1989.

In my view, the analysis of the data in the report suffers from the absence of real-life experience in the family law trenches. Let me give you some examples:

1. The authors discovered that in 51% of cases the father had been cut off from contact with the child and that in almost half of the parent cases (86 out of 174) mothers had made allegations of domestic violence against fathers. However, in only 45 of the 86 cases was their sufficient evidence of family violence.

The report reads “Court investigations into the truth of domestic violence allegations were rare and took place in only 21 of the 86 cases in which allegations of domestic violence were made.

Where fact-findings were held, few ended in a clear determination on the alleged facts. Instead, the question of domestic violence tended to be reconceptualised as being primarily about reducing the risk to the child and facilitating as much contact as was possible in the circumstances.”

In other words, even unproven domestic violence was used to minimize a father’s role in parenting.

THESE FACTS ACCORD WITH MY EXPERIENCE THAT MANY FATHERS ARE MARGINALIZED AFTER MARRIAGE BREAKDOWN AND ALLEGATIONS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARE USED AGAINST GOOD FATHERS TO THWART A CHILD/PARENT RELATIONSHIP.

2. The authors found that many of the cases took two years to resolve but expressed little concern about the delay saying:

“Time taken in the court process should not always be viewed as unnecessary delay. Cases need time to build trust between the parties and reach a workable child-centred conclusion ensuring contact was safe.”

THE REALITY IS THAT IF FATHERS BRING MOST OF THE APPLICATIONS FOR RESIDENCE OR ACCESS AND A RESOLUTION IS TWO YEARS AWAY, THE STATUS QUO CARRIES ON TO THE DETRIMENT OF THESE FATHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN.

3. The authors opine that going to court did not amplify or entrench the conflict between the parties finding that the vast majority of cases were resolved by consent orders. Only 25 of the 174 parent cases ended in a contested final hearing.

THE NAIVETY EXPRESSED IN THE AUTHOR’S FINDINGS ABOUT CONSENT ORDERS IS DISAPPOINTING. THE TRUTH IS THAT FATHERS ARE COMPELLED TO GO TO COURT TO OBTAIN RESIDENCE OR CONTACT ORDERS, AND MANY FATHERS SETTLE FOR WHAT THEY CAN GET AFTER YEARS OF FAILED NEGOTIATIONS WITH ADVICE FROM THEIR LAWYERS THAT FAMILY COURT JUDGES WORSHIP AT THE ALTER OF THE STATUS QUO.

Perhaps if academics conferred with family law lawyers when analyzing court data they would gain insight into the dynamics between feuding parents; understand the nuances and strategies employed by parents who seek to discount or eliminate the other parent; understand that children need both parents in their lives; and resist the attraction of the “primary parent” philosophy that is no longer relevant in today’s world.

The report is titled “HOW DO COUNTY COURTS SHARE THE CARE OF CHILDREN BETWEEN PARENTS?” and can be found at http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang


Court Takes Evidence of Parental Alienation Seriously

_DSC4851A Court in Belgium has ordered a 13-year old girl to check into a psychiatric facility so that experts can figure out why the young girl refuses to look at or speak to her father, after her parent’s high-conflict divorce.

Father’s lawyer said that both parents lashed out at each other during their tense separation and divorce, and ultimately, their daughter lived primarily with her mother and maternal grandparents.

But nobody can point to an incident that would cause a child, who otherwise had a loving relationship with her father, to turn against him. Even the mother’s lawyer agreed that he was a normal father, with no evidence of personality issues or sexual abuse.

Respected psychotherapist Lut Celie opined:

“The father and mother parted on bad terms during the divorce battle with each parent trying to blacken the other. This went so far as to affect the child whose character was not fully developed.”

The Court was told that during a four-year period father and daughter had over 100 visits and each and every time, she refused to interact with him.

During the girl’s first communion at church, she became upset that her father was present and made such a public scene, he was forced to leave the church.

Rather than suggesting that mother and grandparents try to persuade their daughter to engage in a normal father/daughter relationship, a judicial direction that is often futile, the judge removed the girl from her mother’s care and control and into treatment.

Mysteriously, the teenager refuses to explain her behaviour. Kudos to the judge for his determination to get to the bottom of her conduct.

Mom, of course, is furious with the judge’s decision, saying:

“My little girl is being taken from the warmth of her home and away from her school where she is happy and has many friends. This is so heartless… It’s just because her father is insisting. She’s 13 years old now and old enough to know her own mind.”

Sure sounds like parental alienation syndrome…and if it is…it’s despicable, but hopefully not too late.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Mom Loses Custody

GEO CASUALNow that most North American courts are truly focusing on a child’s best interests, and not just slavishly awarding custody of young children to moms, many mothers are experiencing what dads have faced for decades. Life without Jimmy and Susie…

A case in point is the situation that American actress, Kelly Rutherford, found herself in after her two-year marriage to husband Daniel Giersch collapsed in 2009. Star of television’s Gossip Girl, Ms. Rutherford engaged in a lengthy, tortuous custody battle with the father of their two children, Hermes and Helena, who are now six and three-years old.

From the get-go it was as ugly as can be, with mean-spirited, nasty allegations tossed about for the Hollywood media to lap up. He asserted that her life was not focused on the kids, but on spa appointments, shopping excursions and her career, while she accused Giersch of dealing in drugs and weapons in South America.

Ultimately, Ms. Rutherford’s allegations backfired. Mr. Giersch, as a citizen of France, had no legal status in the United States and some media reported that his wife’s unproven complaints stymied any chance Giersch had of remaining in America after his visa was revoked.

At the end of the battle, Giersch was awarded custody of both children who now live with him in France. Ms. Rutherford was awarded access to her children with the proviso that she pay all the costs of visiting them in France. It is reported that to date she has made over 40 trips.

The financial aftermath of her court battle and access costs has led Ms. Rutherford to file for bankruptcy. Despite earning $486,000 a month from her work on Gossip Girl, she has virtually no assets and debt of more than $2 million dollars. The cancellation of Gossip Girl is another setback for the star.

And she has apparently not abandoned her quest for custody of the children. Having spent $1.5 million in legal and related fees, she is now living for free with friends in New York as she continues to battle her ex.

She recently remarked:

“Having to peel my son off my body, screaming, “Mama, save me!” when I had to give him to his father—not because he doesn’t love his dad, but because he’s too young and it was like a forced thing.”

While women have righteously sought gender equality for years, it may be that in this case Ms. Rutherford would rather have the old rules apply.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Toddler’s Death During Access Leads to Lawsuit Against Psychologist

GEO#1Prince McLeod Rams was 15 months old and on his fourth unsupervised access visit with his father, Joaquin Rams. It would be the last day of Prince’s short life, as during the three-hour visit, he drowned in his father’s bathtub.

Hospital staff became immediately suspicious when they noticed a bruise on Princes’ forehead and dried blood in his nostrils. They contacted child protective services.

It would later be discovered that Prince’s father had purchased over a half a million dollars in life insurance on his son’s life, and that he was under investigation for the murder of his former girlfriend, Shawna Mason, who was shot to death in 2003.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, who had sole custody of her son, had implored the Court to grant only supervised access to Mr. Rams. However, the Court determined that allegations that he ran an on-line pornography site, was a suspect in the death of his former girlfriend, and was also accused of raping a 19-year-old girl were unproven and speculative. Judge Michael Algeo called the allegations “smoke that’s been blowing that I can see through”.

Since being charged with Prince’s murder, the investigation into the death of Rams’ former girlfriend has gained traction and officials are also looking into the circumstances of his mother’s 2008 suicide, a death that some members of the Rams family believe was murder, not suicide. Mr. Rams received his mother’s life insurance, a benefit that rescued him from his dire financial circumstances.

Recently, Prince’s mother filed a lawsuit against psychologist Margaret Wong, who prepared a custody and access report that recommended Mr. Rams be allowed unsupervised access to Prince, expert evidence that was instrumental in the Court’s access decision.

While Ms. McLeod acknowledged that her son’s father was highly manipulative during their 18-month relationship, she suggested that a skilled psychologist, like Margaret Wong, should have detected his true character and focused on her son’s best interests, not her ex’s needs and desires.

Ms. McLeod tells the tragic story on her blog “cappucinoqueen”, while Mr. Rams writes his counterpoint at “KingLatte”. He insists he his innocent and that his son died of a seizure, however, the county medical examiner’s findings negate Mr. Rams’ allegations.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge at Mr. Rams’ trial later this year.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Ten Signs Your Divorce is “Off the Rails”

Don’t we all like to think that if divorce was in our future, our uncoupling would be civilized, respectful and rational. For many divorcing spouses it can be that way, particularly where there are no children and minimal assets, however, all the best intentions for an amicable parting can quickly dissipate once spouses abandon the high-road for the ditch.

If you are involved in a so-called “amicable divorce”, are there identifiable signs that signal your divorce may be meandering to the low-road? Of course, there are. Be aware of the following:

1. YOU HAVE A NEW PARTNER Often amicable divorces remain that way until a husband begins a serious relationship with a new lady. One of the easiest ways to have your divorce come “off the rails” is to flaunt a new paramour, before your wife is emotionally ready, which in some cases is never.

2. YOU DECIDE TO CLOSE THE CREDIT CARD ACCOUNTS It is not uncommon for husbands to maintain the financial status quo until they realize their separated spouses’ credit card spending is three times the pre-separation amount. Delicacy is required to rein in the spending, without ruining the convivial settlement discussions. A useful strategy is to terminate all major credit cards except one, which remains available to your spouse, albeit with a much lower credit facility. This can only be done with advance notice to your spouse.

3. YOU TAKE THE CHILDREN ON A VACATION WITH YOUR NEW “FRIEND” You have pleasant post-separation discussions and agree on summer vacation access with your kids, but fail to tell your wife you will be bringing along your 25-year-old girlfriend. Surprises are always dangerous. You are better off to advise your spouse in advance and find a compromise if she adamantly opposes the extra company. Perhaps the girlfriend only visits for a couple of nights or not at all?

4. YOUR WIFE FINDS YOUR PRE-SEPARATION CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS WITH JEWELLERY PURCHASES SHE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT The divorce process always involves the exchange of financial information, including credit card statements. If your wife finds purchases from Tiffany’s or Birk’s, made before the separation and she is not the recipient, watch out. Still worse, are cancelled cheques on your joint account confirming you were paying your girlfriend’s rent before you and your spouse separated.

5. YOUR WIFE FINDS OUT YOU WERE SLEEPING WITH THE NANNY IN THE MARITAL BED The marriage is now over but your wife learns from reliable sources that you were sleeping with the children’s nanny during the marriage. This is a sure-fire way to generate anger and humiliation in your wife, something that usually gets in the way of future courteous communication.

6. YOUR WIFE LEARNS THAT THE “SMALL” MORTGAGE ON THE FAMILY HOME EATS UP OVER HALF OF THE HOME EQUITY Your secret financial dealings during the marriage are now exposed and your wife is shocked to learn that what she thought was a $100,000 mortgage on the family residence is actually $250,000 as a result of undisclosed stock investments made with borrowed monies. It’s even worse if the stock is now worth considerably less or nothing at all.

7. YOU ADVISE YOUR SPOUSE THAT YOU WILL NEVER GIVE UP CUSTODY OF THE FAMILY PET You think everything is settled and leave the conversation about Muffy and Fido to the end, only to realize that neither of you will give up the family pet. Yes, judges now also decide who gets custody of the cat and dog, where the parties cannot agree. This issue can be a deal-breaker.

8. YOU GRADUALLY CANCEL MANY OF YOUR ACCESS VISITS WITH YOUR CHILDREN You tell your spouse you want to remain an active, involved parent, but your weekly visits are now monthly visits and you have failed to show up for some of your visits, leaving your children crying and your ex seething.

9. YOUR SPOUSE MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO SEE THE CHILDREN Parenting time starts off well but disintegrates when your spouse realizes her financial expectations are unrealistically inflated and she now needs leverage to obtain a better financial outcome. What better pawn than the children?

10. YOU TELL YOUR STAY-AT-HOME SPOUSE YOU WILL QUIT YOUR JOB BEFORE YOU EVER PAY HER SPOUSAL SUPPORT You are usually a traditional husband who has no problem paying child support, but believes a 50-year-old wife who worked as a bank teller twenty years ago, should immediately find full-time employment because the children are all in school. What else is she going to do all day?

Negotiating a reasonable divorce settlement can be a minefield if a spouse is not aware of the dangerous trigger points that invite hostility, embarrassment or distrust. A strategic family law lawyer is one who can assist you to manoeuvre the settlement terrain without stepping on a divorce landmine.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Four Reasons Why BC’s New Family Law Act is Good for Fathers

British Columbia’s new family laws will be in effect on March 18, 2013. For husbands and fathers who have felt victimized and exploited by the Family Relations Act 1979, there is every reason to be optimistic that the new law will assist them to achieve the fairness and equality they have been fighting for.

The first bit of good news is that effective March 13, 2012 the new law will apply to everyone, even if they commenced a family law proceeding under the current Family Relations Act that has not yet been concluded, with one exception. Property claims made under the old Act will be governed by that legislation, unless both parties agree that the new law should be applied.

The changes in law that will assist fathers include:

1. Pejorative terminology is removed:

The language of “custody” and “access” used in the current legislation left many parents feeling marginalized and overlooked as fully contributing parents who provided value to their children’s lives. These terms also connoted an “I win, you lose” philosophy. The language of the new Family Law Act is “parenting time” and “contact”, words that do not imply ownership of children by one parent to the exclusion of the other.

2. Endless court applications regarding children can be avoided:

For fathers who are constantly struggling to see their children regularly, or have a vacation with their child, or obtain their child’s passport for travel, or the dozens of other irritants that require fathers to go back to court, the new law has introduced and codified the role of a Parenting Coordinator. This person, who may be a counselor or a lawyer, will be empowered under the law to make binding decisions with regards to parenting issues, with the criteria being “the best interests of the child only”.

3. Informal parenting arrangements will be respected:

In scenarios where a father and mother have recently separated and have worked out a voluntary parenting plan, one parent cannot unilaterally change the plan. What often occurs is the parties will agree to a particular schedule, but when mom learns about dad’s new girlfriend, or is angry over some event involving dad, it is not uncommon for mother to unilaterally impede the regularly scheduled parenting time of the father. This new law forbids this kind of unilateral action.

4. Denial of parenting time will be treated seriously:

One of the most common complaints from fathers in high conflict marriage breakdown is the capricious, unreasonable denial of parenting time as punishment for the parties’ separation, even when the separation was requested by the mother.

The new law recognizes the importance of a father’s time with his children and will take serious steps to enforce parenting time. The key is that a father must complain to the court within 12 months of the access denial. In those circumstances the court may order compensatory parenting time to make up for the time denied. The court can also order a denying parent to go to counseling, pay a $5000.00 fine or reimburse the father for all of his expenses including travel expenses, lost wages and child care expenses incurred as a result of the refusal to comply with the informal parenting arrangement or the terms of any agreement or court order.

In my view the government has enacted new law that is meant to assist parents who do not want to be excised from their children’s lives. The important matter now is that the public be educated as to the upcoming changes so they can improve their relationships with their children.

A final note: there are many mothers who do not conduct themselves in ways described above, but when they do the emotional and financial damage to the family is devastating and destructive, both for the parents and the children.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang