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March 31, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Family court? Or Bedlam? You decide.

Christie Blatchford’s excellent and well-informed piece gives us the briefest squint into the crazy doings inside a Toronto family court, you know, the one that’s supposed to act in the best interests of the child (National Post, 3/23/17).

As Blatchford’s tone implies, there’s nothing really so remarkable about her subject case. As awful as it is, I’ve written about many that have been worse. And to her credit, Blatchford doesn’t draw conclusions. She lets her readers do that from the bare-bones facts of the case. For example,

The case in question is 10 years old going on 11.

The child in question is 10 going on 11.

Imagine. You’re a child who’s now in Middle School, perhaps starting puberty, and your entire life – every minute of it – has had the pall of a child custody case hanging over it. You’ve never known what it is to be free of the threat of losing one of your parents. You’ve never known what it is to have parents who get along. And of course,

In this case, armies of doctors, psychologists, social workers, private detectives (employed by the mother, who appears to have the deeper pockets), therapists, counsellors and supervisors have been employed, as well as various child-welfare agencies and the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Naturally, the child has been one of the primary targets of all that expertise, all of which has been deployed, as any one of the experts would tell us, for the sole purpose of ascertaining the best interests of the child. That the child’s best interests, like those of most of us, might lie in simply being left alone apparently occurs to no one. The idea that the best thing for a child is to live a normal life seems a remote concept indeed, if concept it is.

And don’t forget, this is the very court – and the lawyers in the case would surely agree – that wouldn’t hesitate to tell us that the most important thing for a child is the stability of its circumstances. That too is a concept that appears to have been lost long, long ago in this case. Funny how that works.

By now, readers have surely concluded that this donnybrook is about child custody or allegations of the worst forms of child abuse. But no, nothing so sinister is afoot.

The child’s parents aren’t quarreling over who will raise the child.

It’s nothing big like that.

The father merely wants reasonable access to his child, once or twice overnight during the school week, alternate weekends, that sort of thing. The mother doesn’t want to grant him that.

Now, Blatchford’s approach is, as I said, to just report the facts and let readers draw the obvious conclusions. But I’m not so reticent.

Oh my, but it was a hard-hitting cross-examination, the lawyer for the mother grilling a former girlfriend of the father about whether, when the child in question was visiting once, she had made the mac-and-cheese with the verboten yellow cheese, or white…

The child, according to the mother, is the one with the allergy to foods with yellow food dye; the child, according to the doctors who have testified here, doesn’t have that allergy. The mother insists the child travel always with EpiPens, in case of anaphylactic shock.

Do I smell the fetid smell of Munchhausen’s Syndrome by Proxy? I think I do. The phenomenon of a parent’s demanding attention by recourse to continual doctor visits for the child for imagined illnesses and conditions is well known in family courts, albeit rarely diagnosed as such.  But if this mother insists the child has an allergy to yellow food dye that allergists have been unable to identify, then something is going on other than a parent protecting her child. Have the experts looked into that possibility? Munchhausen’s Syndrome by Proxy is a particularly insidious form of child abuse the courts would be wise to be on the lookout for.

And what’s brutal for a child can be very similar for its parents.

About three years ago, the father was stripped of all access. He has been so emotionally flattened by the viciousness of the protracted process that he temporarily gave up, and didn’t exercise his rights for months at a stretch.

In recent years, his only access has been of the “supervised” variety, which means whenever he sees the child, hovering nearby is a paid stranger…

The couple in this case are university-educated, privileged by most standards. The father is a musician and artist, the mother a non-practising lawyer. Once upon a time, before they spent so much, the mother on lawyers and private dicks, the father in paying the various costs assigned to him by various judges, they probably had money.

Now the father has been driven to bankruptcy, which the mother is trying to block; she is also suing the father’s parents.

Blatchford does and so do I, but does the judge or the lawyers see how utterly dysfunctional this is? Oh, I understand that the lawyers are making too much money on the case to care what it does to the principals, but a judge should long ago have put a stop to this nonsense. That of course would be accomplished by either (a) a strong shared parenting order or, if the father can’t manage that much parenting time, as seems likely, (b) an order granting him time with his child that matches his schedule.

I’m not sure about the mother, but, from Blatchford’s description, the father seems like an entirely fit and loving man. Assuming Mom is too, each should see as much of their child as possible. Beyond that, any claims of abuse or changed circumstances sufficient to significantly diminish the other parent’s access to the child should be dealt with ruthlessly by the judge. Costs should be taxed against any movant who doesn’t make an excellent case for his/her motion. Fines should be imposed and parenting time changed. Jail too is an option.

But I suspect little of that has been tried. Indeed, vindictive and litigious as the mother is in this case, it appears to me to be first and foremost a failure on the part of the judge to keep control over what goes on in her court.

And that too, we see all too frequently.

But whatever the judge’s failings, there is one thing to remember: shared parenting reduces conflict between parents. That is exactly what hasn’t happened in the case described.

 

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#childcustody, #Munchhausen'ssyndromebyproxy, #childabuse, #familycourt

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