Susan Piggs recently had an excellent article in the Toronto Star entitled “Divorced Dads Can’t Catch a Break”. She outlines the many grievances of fathers who feel mistreated by the Ontario Court system. It’s sad to read the stories of so many aggrieved fathers.
Many of these fathers believe that judges are intentionally against men and will do everything in their power to keep men paying support and keep men away from their children. I don’t blame the judges: I blame the adversarial system. And I certainly feel sorry for the fathers who have suffered.
When it comes to children, judges are mandated to ensure that the best interests of the children are paramount. Judges struggle with their decisions. They truly want to do what is best for the children and generally start with the principle that it is in the best interests of the children to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents. If they are faced with overwhelming evidence that limited access or supervised access is the best approach for the children, what would you want them to do? I would prefer they err on the side of protecting children rather than risking harm to them. No doubt, the judges get it wrong sometimes leaving fathers without access unjustifiably.
The adversarial process assumes that both parents will put forward their best case and the judge will somehow miraculously determine “the truth” and will dispense “justice” accordingly. Often parents don’t intentionally lie but rather see the world from a different perspective than the other parent. The judges have to discern the truth. It isn’t an easy job. Sometimes they get it wrong.
The whole adversarial process pits one parent against another. It creates an atmosphere of “winner take all” which exacerbates the conflict. Increasing the animosity between the parents often leads children to suffer. Ironically, judges are supposed to be looking after the best interests of the children yet the adversarial system itself can make things worse.
I believe that most cases can be resolved without going to court. In my experience having mediated hundreds of family law cases and helped many families resolve their situations using the Collaborative Process, I believe parents are usually able to resolve their parenting issues on their own with just a little help and advice from well-meaning collaboratively-trained professionals and mediators.
In the Collaborative Team Process, parents work with a neutral Parenting Coach who will help them craft a parenting plan that is best for their children having regard to the children’s needs, the research on the developmental needs of children and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. The parents are empowered to problem-solve in the Collaborative Process instead of being encouraged to fight as is the case in the court system.
I have met many men who blame judges for their plight. Maybe some of them have legitimate grievances but having appeared before many judges over the years, I believe most are well-meaning men and women who are just doing the best job possible given the restrictions of the adversarial process. Frankly, I don’t believe it’s the judges’ fault… it’s just that the adversarial system is not the best way of resolving parenting issues.