David Harris-Lowe, Partner, Family Law

36 days in trial after two years in the court system.  $500,000.00 in legal fees, with one party owing the other almost $200,000.00 as part of those legal costs.  This was only part of the fallout recently after two parents were unable to agree to a custody and access arrangement relating to their seven year old daughter.  This case attracted significant media attention not just because of the large sums of time and money expended, but also because of the harm that can be caused to children from marriage breakdown.

The parties’ daughter was anxious and agitated because she was worried about one of her parents getting mad because her tooth fell out while seeing the other parent.  Their daughter was told bad things will happen when she’s visiting the other parent or that the other parent didn’t love her.  The judge wrote – “What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”  He also said that “no matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be getting the message out to separating parents”:

a)   Nasty doesn’t work.

b)   Withholding the child doesn’t work.

c)    Sarcastic emails don’t work.

d)   Bad-mouthing the other parent doesn’t work.

e)   Twisting the child’s life to create a new status quo doesn’t work.

f)    Selfish decisions which may be emotionally satisfying in the short term, never look good in        a courtroom.

Cases like this should cause participants in the family law justice system to pause and reflect on how we approach these types of cases.  However, my experience is that the reality is most lawyers actually do encourage reasonableness and settlement. 

If you are, or feel you are about to go down the road to a ‘high conflict’ separation then the following are useful suggestions:

a) Get help.  Retain a lawyer.  See a counsellor.  Bounce ideas off a friend who is prepared to        tell you you’re taking the wrong approach.

b)    Don’t have parental discussions in front of the children.

c)    If you can’t have a discussion with the other parent without arguments and put downs,              then establish a process so that you can have discussions in a way that avoids this.

d)    Just because the other parent says mean or hurtful things, doesn’t mean you have to                  respond in kind. 

e)    Ask yourself, what would a judge think about my communication and actions?

f)     Take care of yourself.

Hiring good professionals in high conflict cases is important.  They will be honest with you in giving advice, even if you don’t always want to hear their advice.  A good lawyer can guide you through the system and, if needed, advocate for you in an effective and efficient way.