Trials and tribulations of family court

By Peter Ehrlich

Winston Churchill once stated, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

That's rather how I feel about the family court system. It is not perfect, but in ways it meets societal expectations.

As a single father, I have faith in the system. And if you knew the pain and anguish I suffered in the halls of Family Court, you would know what an incredible statement this is.

I have faith, even though I found out it's true that courts favour the mother.

There are, however, valid reasons for this.

For a judge to agree to a 50/50 split, he or she has to be convinced the relationship between the parents is solid. This doesn't often happen.

The fact is, if you've been with someone for 10 years and are separating, for all intents and purposes you've been breaking up and suffering for three. By the time you get to court you're not going to say, "Hey, darling ex, want to go for a burger and a shake after we're done here?"

If the judge doesn't believe that your post-breakup relationship is truly amicable and therefore you're both likely to return to court, she or he is going to favour the mother for custody for practical reasons. (The judge doesn't want you coming back. Court battles compromise the emotional stability of the child.)

What are these practical reasons?

Usually it's the father who heads out to work while the mother spends the first few months with the child. She then either continues to stay with the child or sets out to co-ordinate daycare and is involved in the child's early life that way.

Consider the child's natural affinity to the mother – the baby lived inside her for nine months and then spent another eight or so attached to her breast.

There is a reason that a dying soldier's last words are "Help me, Mama," and not Dada.

If the father is the primary caregiver, he won't disrupt that, either. The courts are largely gender neutral.

While I have faith in the system, single dads who deserve it still have to build a case for meaningful access. It's easy to become angry and depressed when loving and committed fathers have to prove they are just that. And sometimes women are so bitter about the breakup, they forget about the welfare of the child and go out of their way to make it difficult for the well-intentioned father to build his case.

In the United Kingdom, senior judges are considering reforming child custody legislation so that if a single mother refuses to let the child have anything to do with a father who is proved to want and deserve access, she should be ordered to hand over custody to the father.

I would like to see that considered in Canada.

By the same token, if fathers are neglectful, unloving, angry parents, to the point that the child is worse off by being in his company, they should lose access until they can prove they are worthy.

It's beyond me how anyone could not love their children and try, despite everything, to act in their best interests, but that's a subject for another day.

The family court system is, in fact, good government, but like any other government, it can be improved.

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