The Advantages of Collaborative Family Law for Your Children
In a 2016 decision in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice after two warring parents embroiled in a 36-day trial, the Honorable Mr. Justice Alex Pazaratz uttered these words: “What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”. This was his brief description about the adversarial approach within family law. In other words: litigation.
The truth is that when it comes to children, litigation usually results in a nasty battle over custody, access or both (How many times have you heard this term? I hear it a lot where people liken disagreements about the children to war. Nothing could be a more inappropriate analogy.). The child becomes a tool of power amongst the parents. It becomes a tug of war, where the child is the rope. Is this fair? The trial, if it is ever reached, becomes lengthy, tedious, costly, something neither parent anticipates; nonetheless in light of the situation, they become blinded for the thirst to win believing that they are championing the “best interests of the child”. Sometimes I wish that I could have had people observe what they were doing as a “fly on the wall” to see what their reaction would be. In almost every case, I believe that they would have been appalled by their behavior.
This was the case for Justice Pazaratz in his 36-day trial. Altogether the parents’ legal bills had mounted up to $500,000.00. You read that right – $500,000.00!!! That money could have been better spent on the child’s education, first car, wedding and first home!
Ask yourself, is it worth it? This acrimony likely could have been avoided. All the time and money could have been saved. If there are several other options provided, then why resort to the nastiest one?
Research has shown that 98% to 99% of “litigation” cases resolve before they ever go to trial. This begs the question “Why do we often feel that this process is the starting point?” Litigation is an adversarial process. It is meant to pit one side against the other. Each person takes “shots” at the other through a series of documents or “pleadings”, none of which are meant to cast a favourable light on the other person. People then read these pleadings (which typically take a series of smaller incidents, twist them or exaggerate the circumstances to make things seem like that other individual is a serial criminal) and internalize them which then impacts their ability to work with one another in the future. The lawyers may forget what was written, the judges and others involved may forget what was said, but those involved in the process NEVER forget. They carry this with them forever. It becomes a wound that will often never heal.
In the above case, litigation was the option chosen by the parents, although one of the parents did suggest an alternative. Had they chosen an alternative path, the results may (and likely would) have been much different.
Collaborative family law entails a harmonious process of individuals working together as a team in order to resolve conflict. It may, and more often does, involve a team of professionals, including legal, family or financial experts. These individuals are experienced in assisting families through conflict. They provide the proper tools to avoid or diminish conflict in the future. They point the parties in the right direction to start becoming emotionally healthy again.
When a child is involved it can bring another dimension to the conflict. The child often becomes the prized possession. It is necessary to consider the impact litigation has on the child. The parents will often believe that they are improving the circumstances for their child, when they are actually destroying the essence of their childhood. It becomes a picture in which the roles are reversed; the child often holds a clearer viewpoint on the situation while the parents are maliciously consumed within the “custody battle”.
Now instead of struggling through the acrimony, frantically searching for “dirt” on your spouse in order to defeat them, why not rediscover the silver lining of your past relationship for the sake of your child? That is not to say that people reconcile with each other, but discover your maturity and strength when needed the most. Put your ill intentions away, and resist the temptation to be the one who is “right” and not “wrong”, because there is often not a “right” or “wrong”.
Keep in mind that you are responsible for bringing a child into the world. Your responsibility does not lessen or end once in the face of marital conflict. In fact, this is the period in which your responsibility increases; it is your job to maintain stability for the child, and this can often be best achieved as a team involving compassionate, collaboratively trained lawyers and family professionals to assist.
Collaborative law has a great deal to offer. This begins with the parents agreeing to cooperate and taking a child-focused approach when a relationship breaks down. Further, several professionals with different expertise can be brought in according to the situation. Having practiced both ways, I can say unequivocally that this is a healthier and more predictable alternative to dealing with problems. Rather than choosing an acrimonious path, parents are guided towards perceiving the child as the motivating factor to better the situation.
Working out a plan in a more comfortable environment allows the children to know that they have two parents that love them and that all of their fears, insecurities and concerns will be taken care of instead of making the children feel that they have to choose one person over the other. Collaborative family law offers a restorative and holistic approach to families in crisis.
Call me at (519) 745-0859 for more information on the collaborative family law process.