What it is -- which is not what it should be
We have a lot of non-custodial parents, and particularly men, who come through the FACT meetings, lost and impoverished by the court system. They have been driven to desparation have had to looked to Legal Aid for some legal assistance so they can get orders enforced to see their children and in setting their lives right.
However, they usually don't get very far with Legal Aid. Those that do were persistent and focussed. Understanding what is being done is important.
So what is the story, and what should you need to keep in mind if you are in Ontario, Canada.
Men are a very vulnerable population in the family courts. If you weren't a member of the working poor when you started, odds are that a judge will turn you into one with a "non-substantive decision" in a so-called "case conference" at the same time they decide to "temporarily" (meaning "indefinitely") keep you from your children.
Judges don't like individuals who are self-represented and they particularly don't like men who are self-represented without knowing the basics of their process or able to stay focused. You need to know about how the courts work, and someone to focus the judge on your children's interests. For that you need someone who knows that is going on. For most need is a lawyer.
Women will get Legal Aid. Women have family law clinics. Women have lots of lawyers available to them funded by the federal and provincial governments. We often see women will get two Legal Aid lawyers at a time. Women may have to sell the truth, but they will get lawyers. Men's don't have those services, services supplied by the governments based solely on gender.
As a man, you will be threatened throughout the process. You will be threatened with jail when you run out of money by the FRO. You will be threatened with jail by the judge for daring not to make the money that they decided you should - this from the highest paid profession in Canada. You will be threatened with jail for wanting to see your children, for objecting when your court-ordered access is denied, for telephoning your children, for requesting their medical and school records. If you are in criminal court and you could go to jail, Legal Aid is required to cover the cost of representation.
Legal Aid will turn you down.
First Legal Aid will tell you is that the judge decided you had money. You point out that the judge imputed a huge income and set support levels that are higher than you make. Legal Aid will tell you that judges never make mistakes. Judges do this every day, so what Legal Aid is really telling you is that this is done on purpose - you have been purposefully been impoverished.
For the first time, you have entered the ranks of the working poor, and made poor by exorbitant sums of money being unjustly taken, just as they took your children. The rich don't go to court for a divorce unless one party wants to be extremely vindictive. The rich don't need Legal Aid.
Legal Aid will ignore the money the court has seized from you and suggest that you pay that for a lawyer. Do it, and your children suffer and you will put you in jail.
You are stripped of your income. You are stripped of your assets. Legal Aid will continue to will tell you that you are not eligible.
What can you do? You can appeal. It is your right. Legal Aid will threaten you to eject you if you ask for appeal - keep your cool, you have a right to appeal. You won't win your first appeal.
Do you give up your children at this point? You will not be allowed to move on - your income will be tapped forever. FRO will be out to jail you forever. The federal government will seize each and every cheque be it pension, taxes, or unemployment of any man that they think is in arrears (whether you are or not). You need a lawyer. DON'T give up.
Appeal the appeal. Those few men you have received Legal Aid have had to make three or four appeals.
You will not see your children if you don't get the order from the judge and get that order enforced. Your children need you to appeal if Legal Aid turns you down.
You will be harassed for money you don't have, and may not even know, and eventually jailed and thereafter unemployed. Just like any debtor's prison it will not reduce any of the support. You will be reduced from working poor. If you are in arrears they will deem you not responsible enough to father your children. You need to appeal if Legal Aid turns you down.
Legal Aid will tell you that appealing is "bad." You will be stripped of your dignity but you need to appeal. Your children need both their parents. It is abandoning your children what is bad.
This system is set up to brutalise you and your children. It is set to deny you the rights that others in this country have. It is set up to create a new "working poor". It needs to be fought on all fronts. However, for your children, you can never give up.