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A Cautionary Tale From a Divorced Father: What Really Happens in Ontario Family Court

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Attending court obviously does not resemble anything like one sees on the TV screen and this is even more evident when attending Family Court in Ontario Canada (and probably everywhere else).

This father, who wishes to remain anonymous for the sake of his children, shares his story on how he "spent 10 years and 500k only to learn that Family Court is a total waste of money with no way to gauge the cost while there are better alternatives with which you can know the cost."

Stranger Danger

Firstly, try to view proceedings from the perspective of a Judge who is typically an ex-lawyer and first and foremost, a total stranger to you and your family. They know nothing about you, your ex or your children except from the written material they receive from you via your lawyer and which, in my experience, they do not even bother reading, since they know it will most likely be a sordid contest whereby each parent now suddenly claims the other is no longer a suitable parent for various reasons. Meanwhile, in the past year each spouse wrote one another separately how wonderful a parent they are on Mothers/Fathers day.

Evidence Shmevidence

Of course the only “evidence” typically presented to support any of the material filed by either side is literally what “he said vs what she said”. There are, of course, cases where more “solid” evidence is presented for example from therapists, teachers and other experts (very expensive) but we are not dealing with the certainty of DNA or video type evidence! Next, there is financial evidence (disclosure) which is at the root of most conflict with the irony being that court is expensive and will rapidly drain all the wealth you once had. Most people do not bother to calculate whether it costs $3 for every $1 dollar you may win. Certainly, most lawyers cannot because they cannot know or guarantee the outcome. All a family lawyer can tell you is what you MAY be entitled to in Court not if you will get it and certainly never how much it will cost to get it. Certainly most lawyers will not offer to either because they cannot know the outcome or it is not in their financial interest to do so.

Remember, a family lawyer can only tell you what you “may” be entitled to under the law. Not the outcome. Not the cost of pursuing those entitlements win or lose.

I won full and total custody of both my children when they turned 12 and 14 yet there was no feeling of "winning" at the time or now 7 years on. Only of everyone losing (kids included).

So, in Court everything “he says”, is naturally countered by everything “she says” and so on. How can a Judge be expected to make a decision based on that type of evidence! They can’t and they don’t like to!

Also note that Judges rotate in and out of Family Court and they are known typically to dislike it because it is not typically intellectually stimulating or interesting just the same old “he said vs what she said” every time. Family Lawyers are considered the lowest rung of the ladder in the profession by many Judges. What I am getting at is no-one wants to be in court except MAYBE the person you are paying an exorbitant amount of money by the hour to advise you on why you should be there and their counterpart acting on behalf of your ex.

Now let’s move on to a typical day in Court or what I call “the same as setting your money on fire”.

You and/or your lawyer have already spent an enormous amount of time and your money preparing the materials for the Judge in advance of your court date. All of this material has to have been properly served and responded to back and forth between your ex’s lawyer who you can bet is billing by the hour too. Also, it all has to be done according to certain rules and time frames that make it very stressful prior to the big day where you are going to get your “justice”.

You arrive at 9:30 am or so at court with your material which you HOPE the Judge has read (most don’t) so that you can argue for all the items you have identified on your wish list of outcomes. The problem is that there are ten other lawyers attending your Courtroom with their clients and everyone wants to be seen and heard first so they can get out as early as possible.

So it goes, and the Judge typically spends the first half an hour listening to each lawyer speak as to why their case should be heard first (or not) so they can hammer out a schedule in which you will be lucky to have one of your issues addressed in the allotted time you are given. The lack of time ensures you will have to return again and again if you wish to have all the other issues that there was no time for dealt with.

A typical day attending the Courthouse will cost you a few thousand dollars not including preparation. I repeat there are no guarantees you will get anything you want. I guarantee that you will not get everything that you want, though.

Nothing moves quickly in the Court process. Rarely will a judge make a substantial change to anything significant at a single motion day without substantial “real” evidence from third parties who are solidly behind your cause.  All of that takes a lot more time and a lot more money. Part of this is because major decisions are supposed to be made at an eventual trial unless its a major emergency. I

f you have three weeks and $75 to$100k + to spend on a trial that may get you what you want, but first be prepared to spend years going through motions and the tedious processes of discovery and procedure to be able to have the permission to have that trial you dream of spending your savings on.

Getting third parties on your side is extremely difficult, time consuming and expensive as well. Practically, no one wants to stick their neck out in this day and age lest they receive criticism online or otherwise.

Mediation and Co-Mediation are superior options for divorcing couples because. And, I know from experience!

Blog posts and podcasts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

About the Author

Laura Tarcea

Laura is a family mediator dedicated to supporting families through divorce or separation. With a background in Mental Health, Research, Program Development, and a Master of Laws in Dispute Resolution, Laura brings valuable insight and critical knowledge to parents. She strongly believes that a healthy co-parenting relationship will protect children from short-term and long-term damage. As such, Laura is a supporter of out-of-court processes to help equip parents with appropriate tools to succeed in their next chapter.

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