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Children have the most to lose when parents get into a bitter custody dispute. (Jupiterimages/Thinkstock)
Children have the most to lose when parents get into a bitter custody dispute. (Jupiterimages/Thinkstock)

The Conversation: March 30 letters and the Talking Point of the week – the family law system Add to ...

As a therapist who treats the men, women and children who come out of this system, I can attest to the financial and emotional damage to participants (Court Told To Overhaul Family Law – March 27). It makes me very grateful for a happy marriage.

There are already huge incentives in the system to try to fix things through marriage counselling or mediation. And almost everyone I see who has been through that system feels done over by it.

I think the emphasis on change should be on speed and fairness, not thinking of new ways of pitting one gender against another.

Richard Schwindt, Kingston

.........

When children are involved, the current system is winner-take-all. The non-custodial parent also gets to hand over a sizable amount of money with no influence over how it is spent.

Is the money actually spent on the children, or is it spent on a bigger house and fancier car? The current system is out of date and badly needs to be fixed.

Richard Haight, Brampton, Ont.

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I heartily applaud the committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell for its report aimed at trying to repair the family law system in Canada.

Among its observations, the committee points a finger at the press, citing the media’s role in furthering the perception that family law is “trial by combat,” driving up legal costs and delays. Something tells me that the vast majority of acrimonious divorces in Canada are of little interest to the press.

Family lawyers can charge upward of $500 an hour. My personal experience of hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on divorce allowed a crystal clear understanding of where and how adversarialism is nurtured and maintained – just follow the money. Consider this: If there were little financial interest, would there not have been means to economize and make the system more family friendly long ago?

Peter Krakus, Toronto

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For every long, ugly court fight, there are probably four cases that involve starting a court action and then quickly settling; for every quick settlement, there are probably four cases that are resolved by separation agreement without going to court at all; and for every separation agreement, there are probably four cases where the parties simply dissolve their relationship without any formalities because there is nothing to fight about.

As a family lawyer, I learn about that last group of cases because, years later, one of the spouses retains me to obtain an uncontested divorce, which requires a brief, simple court application.

Wade MacGregor, Terrace, B.C.

.........

The entire family law system has an axe to grind against men. “Child support” is, in fact, “spousal support” renamed. Its real intent is to transfer as much wealth as possible from non-custodial parents (nearly always the father) to custodial parents (nearly always the mother), ignoring entirely what the real needs of the children are.

Derek Riehm, Santiago

.........

I have been witness all too often to warring parties in a high conflict divorce using their children as cannon fodder in their attempts to destroy each other. The best interests of the child are often the last and least concerns for family lawyers, parents who hate each other, and even, occasionally, therapists who get unwittingly sucked into the fray.

For the sake of the children, I hope this new report doesn’t just sit on a shelf somewhere.

Our current adversarial system is not “win-lose.” It’s “lose-lose-lose” as far as the eye can see, and for many years after the trial has ended.

Marshall Korenblum, psychiatrist-in-chief, Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, Toronto

.........

Publicly admitting that the judicial system is messed up is helpful to counter the prevailing and false feel-good mantra that “things are getting better.”

It’s a good first step, but the approach remains piecemeal by applying existing divorce legislation, and so unlikely to provide real relief to families and children, despite the best intentions of litigants who are still essentially ground up by the “system.”

André Campeau, Paris

.........

Judges, lawyers, mental-health professionals and mediators agree with the recommendations for a Unified Family Court system, specialist and consistent judges, early information programs for parents, diversion where appropriate from adversarial litigation to more child- and family-friendly options, and better use of court resources to protect victims of violence.

Several provinces, including B.C., Ontario and Alberta, and others, have introduced progressive reforms. But as the report identifies, there is an “implementation gap” in that reforms have been piecemeal and underfunded nationally.

Many legal and mediation organizations echo the call for a cultural paradigm shift in family law. What is needed is the political will and co-operation provincially and nationally to support families at their time of crisis.

Barbara Landau, co-author, Home Court Advantage Report, ADR Institute of Ontario

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OTHER LETTERS

Tough spot

Three Conservative backbenchers are asking Andrew Scheer, the “novice” Speaker of the House of Commons, to grant them more autonomy (MPs Plead For Greater Freedom – March 29).

Faced with having to make the tough choice in adjudicating “a dispute between fellow Tories and Mr. Harper, the man who signs his nomination papers before each federal election,” one can imagine Speaker Scheer on his knees, looking heavenward, and asking: “Where are you Eugene Forsey, when I need you?”

Jack Tennier, Toronto

.........

Staying power

Re The Secret Power of Rust (March 29): In 1967, when I was a nursing student, we had to wear white, opaque stockings. I found a company that made some that wouldn’t run. I only needed new ones when they discoloured. Unfortunately, they became difficult, then impossible to get. That sublime miracle of technology vanished.

Now, a chemical that could provide renewable energy, making us less reliant on carbon-emitting fuels. Utopia! I’m not holding my breath, but if God lets this one through, I’m forgiving the pantyhose.

Janny Bruyn, Hamilton, Ont.

.........

Spill-site assurances

Suncor says the leak this week of an estimated 350,000 litres of industrial waste water had a “negligible impact” on the Athabasca River (Suncor Spill Site Also Had Incident In 2011 – March 29).

And the fox remarked, “Nothing to see here, move along, the hens are fine.”

David Thompson, Edmonton

.........

Actually spent?

Stephen Harper feels we aren’t spending $350,000 wisely, as less than one-fifth of the money actually went to fight drought in Africa (Drought – March 29).

I think we have a right to know how much of the millions spent on security for the G20 meetings actually went to security (gazebos, etc.?), and why $2-million was actually needed for the PM’s security in India. In comparison, $283,000 looks paltry. Perhaps Mr. Harper is reluctant to admit that he is simply avoiding anything environmentally motivated.

Keith Goudge Fall River, N.S.

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