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Family Court: Well-known Judge Tells You What You Need to Know, Before You Head that Way.

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What if you had the right information at the right time?

Thinking of divorce can be scary. And there is so much (mis)information out there. Friends, social media, neighbours, TV dramas… they all have a story for you: court battles, financial ruin, parental alienation, endless years in court and so on.

But, have you ever heard what a family court judge (the one you think you want to decide for your family) would tell you and your family, before you even walk into their court? Before you even contemplate retaining lawyers for litigation, or think that you must do what some of your friends tell you: “fight against your co-parent”, “talk through your lawyers only”, “take her to the cleaners”, “make him pay for hurting you”.

Family Court Judge, Harvey Brownstone, warns families about going to court.

[This excerpt is from his book Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court]

Ask anyone who has ever appeared in family court as a litigant – even if they had a lawyer – and they are almost certain to describe their experience as unsatisfactory. Why? What can be done to help people so that their family court experience is more predictable, more positive and constructive, less time-consuming, and consequently more beneficial to themselves and their children? An even more important question is, What can be done to help people avoid going to court in the first place? That is what I am going to explain in this book.

What is the difference between the couples who settle their disputes privately and those couples who require a judge to make the decisions? Do the parents in the first group dislike each other any less than those in the second group? Does the first group have access to resources unavailable to the second group? Do the two groups come from separate and distinct socio-economic or cultural groups? Not in my experience.

The major difference between couples who resolve their disputes privately and those who turn to a judge has to do with one overriding characteristic: maturity.

In my opinion, the major difference between couples who resolve their disputes privately and those who turn to a judge has to do with one overriding characteristic: maturity. We who work in family court know that a person’s maturity level has nothing to do with economic circumstances, education, culture, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We see rich people and poor people in our courtrooms, and we see people from all walks of life and from every racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious background, and from every lifestyle and orientation imaginable. Trust me: judges see it all. What we don’t see very often in our clientele is maturity.

In the context of a relationship breakdown, being mature means loving your children more than you dislike your ex-partner. Being mature means caring enough about your children that you will force yourself to deal in a civilized way with someone you may hate. Being mature means thinking twice and measuring you words carefully before you shoot your mouth off when you’re upset with your ex-partner, especially in front of the children. It means always insulating your children from parental conflict so they know your breakup has nothing to do with them. It means doing what is necessary to make the transition in your children’s lives as easy for them as possible.

Being mature means putting your children’s needs ahead of your own. It means truly understanding and accepting that your children are entitled to love and be loved by both of their parents. It means giving your children emotional permission to express and receive that love, even though you and the other parent dislike each other. Being mature means being willing and able to reach compromises so that your children can have peace rather than be caught in a tug of war and conflict of loyalties. Being mature means recognizing that you can be an ex-partner but you are never going to be an ex-parent. True maturity requires parents to appreciate that children need both parents in their lives, working co-operatively to make the best possible decisions for their upbringing.

Mature people do not give up their parental decision-making responsibilities to a total stranger even if that stranger wears a robe and is called “Your Honour.”

In my experience, mature people fully understand that even though they no longer love each other, they are the most qualified people to make important decisions for their children. After all, parents know their children best. Children deserve to have parents working together as a team in all matters affecting their welfare. Mature people do not give up their parental decision-making responsibilities to a total stranger, even if that stranger wears a robe and is called “Your Honour.”

Instead of looking forward, parents mostly want to look back

It has always bothered me that family court judges don’t get the opportunity to offer this help until far too much damage has already been done. We don’t see parents until they and their lawyers are seated in our courtrooms geared up for the battle of their lives. The task of the family court judge is difficult at this stage, because instead of looking forward, parents mostly want to look back. We should be trying to construct a co-operative, co-parenting regime that is in the children’s best interests. Instead, we spend a great deal of time trying to de-escalate the hostilities and refocus the parties away from their litany of complaints against each other. Separated couples seem to relish the prospect of rehashing every bad thing that each party did to the other through the entire course of the relationship. Many people apparently need to hear the judge validate their perceived victimization.

While this may have a therapeutic effect for the parents (and that is questionable, as judges are not training therapists), it mostly serves to reopen old wounds and create new ones. Most importantly, it does not help the judge decide what is best for the children.

Informed parents make better decisions than uninformed parents

What if parents headed for family court could hear from the judge before they got there? What if they knew what to expect (and equally importantly, what not to expect) from the court process, and also what the court expects from them? What if they knew the alternatives to court litigation so they could choose the dispute resolution process that best suits their needs and circumstances? I believe that informed parents make better decisions than uninformed parents.

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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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