Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, January 12, 2002

Avoiding court is best defence

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

At the risk of repeating myself (again and again): The best way to deal with the legal industry is to avoid it. It should not be regarded as a justice system. It is an industry that provides incomes for its insiders and, as an industry, its raw material is us.

Consider a 40-year-old father of three with an income in the $70,000 range who appealed to the family court system for shared parenting. Before the court would rule, it insisted on a psychiatric assessment. That cost him $5,200 on top of legal fees that are approaching the $15,000 mark.

His lawyer coached him on how to play the head game. He was told to say nothing negative about his ex-wife or the legal system. He was told to be enthusiastic about his future no matter how gloomy it seemed. Over several weeks, he spent eight hours with a psychiatrist, about two hours with a social worker who examined his home and the parks around it, and about an hour with a psychologist, who administered standard tests. He estimated he was asked about 1,500 questions.

Leading up to this, he bought, on his lawyer's advice, a home within reach of his ex-wife's home so the children could have access to their school. His hope was for full sharing, with the children spending a week with dad and then with mom.

At the end of it all, the court decision was based on the psychiatric report. It found no major problems with mom or dad, but concluded the children were doing fine under their current circumstances, and recommended the court stick with the status quo. He will see his children every second weekend, a reduction in access of half. He doesn't know why.

When he called this desk yesterday, he wanted to know why tens of thousands of dollars have been diverted from his children to lawyers and mind readers.

Not only is he out that money in direct payments, he expects to take a major loss on the home he bought in hopes of impressing a court, and no longer can justify keeping.

He has been advised he can appeal but he's had enough. He said he wanted to tell his story to warn others about seeking solutions through courts. Even if one feels wronged, a decision to pay what is asked in the first place keeps the money available to the children.

Second Wife Club

Another Friday caller thought it unfair that his attempts to make his ex-wife pay support had been turned around so completely that his current wife has been ordered by a court to disclose her finances.

A teen decided to live with dad. When the move was made, dad asked mom to pay some support, as he had to her for years. When she refused, he started a court action. She countered with a claim she has a health condition that not only prevents her from paying, but may require some financial help from her ex-husband.

Now there are three lawyers working the case -- dad's, mom's, and stepmom's. In six months, dad's legal bill is nearing the $10,000 mark.

He doesn't know the size of the other bills, but when added together the three legal bills will far outweigh any support payments.

He called to ask if I thought he was on a wrong track.

First a question: Could he afford to support the teen without help from mother?

Affirmative.

Then back up, take a deep breath and bite the bullet.

Not fair, he said.

If he continues seeking fairness he could easily spend $20,000 to collect $10,000 -- if he wins. That would be stupid.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com

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