Breaking up is tough enough

Posted on in Child & Family Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – opinion/editorials
Published On Tue Jul 26 2011.

Rarely does a song sum up a problem better than Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard Do.” Divorce is as bad as it gets. And when it’s fought in court, it can get really ugly.

A couple pursuing a divorce before a judge may want a speedy and fair end to their marriage but what they are far more likely to get is years of emotional turmoil and financial ruin with their lawyers pocketing a good portion of the family assets. When children are caught in the middle it’s even worse.

That’s why Ontario’s new requirement that couples seeking a divorce attend an information session on the alternatives to litigation such as mediation is a good move. With four in 10 marriages expected to end in divorce, the more soon-to-be-ex-couples who can be encouraged to reduce the emotional and financial costs by avoiding an acrimonious battle in court, the better.

Mediation won’t work for everyone, of course. Some couples just want to fight. And mediation isn’t appropriate in cases of abuse. But for the vast majority, these sessions will offer a brief cooling-off period and serve as a timely reminder that going to court is not the only option — indeed, is probably not the best one.

One provincial court judge was so concerned about the effect of courtroom confrontation and delay on children that he recently published a book detailing the “bitter realities” of family court. “There’s no winning in family court — there are only degrees of losing,” cautioned Ontario Justice Harvey Brownstone.

Saving more people from going through that painful experience and reducing the backlog in our courts from too many cases before too few judges are the two outcomes Attorney General Chris Bentley hopes to achieve through the information sessions on court alternatives, which became mandatory last week.

To be sure, nudging more people toward mediation instead of litigation is not a fix for all that ails our family courts. It is one measure in a series of useful family law reforms begun by Bentley in 2008 that are being implemented.

We still need more unified family courts. It is beyond ridiculous that in most jurisdictions in Ontario a couple must deal with divorce and property matters in one courtroom before a federal judge, then deal with spousal support and child custody matters in another courtroom before a provincial judge. Fixing this problem, however, requires Ottawa’s cooperation.

Until that happens, Ontario has rightly decided to do what it can to encourage divorcing couples to opt for a cheaper, faster and less confrontational means to end their marriage and settle child custody. Breaking up is hard enough. There’s no need to make it worse.

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