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Don’t Confuse Family Court with Criminal Court

March 3, 2015

Parents in dispute turn to family court to resolve their differences and hopefully their conflict. Thinking of the criminal court model, those entering family court believe they must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They believe their case to be determined on the basis of hard irrefutable evidence – even if they have to exaggerate or concoct it.

However, family court is not about making one’s case beyond a reasonable doubt but on the basis of probabilities. Probability is the likelihood of something, not the certainty of something. Further, while criminal court is about the administration of justice, family court is about doing what is best for the child. Thus family court can put the wishes of the parent at odds with what the court considers to be in the child’s interest. To that end, the court weighs how the child’s needs will be met and with which parent the child stands the better chance of maintaining a relationship with the other parent absent issues of abuse or neglect or substandard care. And by the way, neither parent has to be presented as the best parent, just a good enough parent.

Treating family court as criminal court, some parents seek to magnify the negative issues of the other and portray themselves as near angels. To the judge, this raises concern that the parent engaging in this behaviour is malicious, undermining, self-centered, lacks insight and has difficulty taking responsibility for their contribution to distress. This concern is based on probability given the manner in which the parent has presented themselves over what the parent presented. No wonder when that parent loses their case they are dumbfounded and blame the judiciary and all attendant servants of the court as biased. That parent doesn’t see their strategy as having backfired, as having provided a negative impression more of themselves than the other.

If you want to make a good impression at court, you need to be seen as reasonable, level headed and open to discussion, but hey, if you could do that, you likely wouldn’t need court.

If you really want to win your case or more importantly, if you really want a reasonable relationship with your child, then appear reasonable and if you can do that, then you really don’t need court anyway.

So save yourself and your child the stress and expense of a court battle that in the end is likely to leave you dissatisfied.

Be reasonable – someone with whom you can reason, someone who shows flexibility in thinking and action. Be nice. Take responsibility for your own issues. Address those issues that interfere or create concern with regard to the care of your children and then settle your dispute through mediation or Collaborative Law.

To really resolve parenting disputes, mediation and Collaborative Law tend to be quicker and less costly than any court battle and typically leave parent’s relationship with their children intact as they grow up well. Further, these processes are likely to leave you a better person in the end and what child wouldn’t want that of their parent.

(Learn about all of Gary’s services.)

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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