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“Zealous Advocacy” can Kill: Another Child Lost a Parent to Suicide

Image of a child that is sad due to parents' ongoing legal battle

His divorce was going really badly: aggressive lawyers on both sides, court battles and blame-ridden affidavits.

Some time ago, he was supposed to call me to see if there was another way to deal with this “mess”. The call never came. He had taken his own life; leaving behind a young child and a ghastly reminder of the ineffectiveness of our family court system.

I cannot begin to imagine the utter bleakness this parent must have experienced. I do, however, know that anyone entering the court system doesn’t come out better!

Almost every parent faces a similar agonizing pattern: countless sleepless nights; mountains of lawyer letters and affidavits aimed at discrediting the other’s parental capacity; shame; loneliness; loss of hope; and loss of dignity.

Compelling research has long-established the irreparable damage of going to court. No one ever wins! And, no amount of court “wins” will ever compensate for the damage to families’ relationships, emotional, financial and mental health. And, yet, many family lawyers push clients into the direction of court. Without regard for their vulnerability or the increased risk of mental illness of divorcing parents. Not because lawyers don’t care, but because they are not trained to recognize and control for these risk factors; nor do they conduct any prior screening. The obvious danger here is that a client’s vulnerability will be misconstrued and used inappropriately in their divorce proceedings. And, in many cases, that’s precisely what happens.

We didn’t have to call a lawyer when we got married. So, why do we do it when we are divorcing??

So, why are we conditioned to first “call a lawyer” when divorcing? You don’t call a lawyer when you decide to get married or have a child; you most certainly don’t call a lawyer for a bris or baptism; and, I can’t imagine anyone calling a lawyer when deciding about bedtime routine! Yet, divorce gets a different treatment; even though it is a life event just like all the others. More intense, more emotionally charged and, definitely, more painful. So, logic follows: more reason to manage it in a way that will not intensify nor escalate / create conflict: out of an adversarial system (aka family court).

Then, there must be something fundamentally flawed if, as a society, we are being convinced that the right way to manage divorce is by inviting strangers to make decisions for our families; placing more trust in a debilitating system than the other parent; and, mistakenly, converting a highly emotional process into a legal one.

But neither logic nor research seems to be weighing enough. Instead of creating adequate supports, our tax dollars are consistently funding a machinery that pulls families apart and contributes to systemically attacking and destroying individuals’ sense of control, ownership and ultimately, their sense of dignity. All under the guise of “justice”.

This “justice” system has been tactically designed to pressure parents into submission and satisfy the needs of its own operational structure; it is a gross misconception of “fairness”.

Ironically, society continues to glorify legal battles, and zealous advocacy is seen as the ultimate act of defending parties’ rights and entitlements. You would think that that includes defending their lives, too!

Unless there is evidence that court is a better and safer alternative, which, in most cases it is not, then, I suggest that it is careless to push families into a system that has been shown to escalate conflict, to trigger mental illness and, in tragic cases, claim the lives of parents. It is not the divorce that kills; it’s the system and the “games” that come with it. And, another man has lost faith in the judiciary and… his life…

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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