The Province newspaper recently published an article with the headline “B.C. Man Pleads for Family Law Reform in Suicide Note”. It reads as if it is supposed to be an article reporting (presumably objectively) on a person’s suicide. From the headline, you might be forgiven for thinking it may also delve into why family law needs reform.
The article heavily quotes the man’s widow, who, as someone living this story, may be forgiven for placing the blame for his suicide squarely on the family courts, his previous spouse, and the mother to his third child. For context, by way of his suicide note, the man in question does put the blame for his death on the courts and the mothers to his children. Simply because the grieving widow and the man at the centre of this story give these reasons for his suicide does not mean, however, that we should buy into that story as well.
The author of the article starts the article with a caveat: “The horror shows that emerge from Canada’s family courts, those aggressive high-conflict battles that can go on for years, are often complicated and nuanced.” But she then fails to give any nuance other than one version of events of one side of the story. She also fails to delve beneath the surface as to why family-law cases can be considered “horror shows” or why people suffer in the court system while working through separation and divorce.
For those of you who read the article I am referring to, let me assure you that not all divorces or family-law cases are high-conflict. In fact, family-law cases such as the one in question represent a small percentage of divorces and separations.
Divorce and separation are tough, especially when you have children, but there is a healthy way to cope with the stresses that this life change puts on you. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking professional support from a counsellor, psychologist, or even psychiatrist if you are going through a divorce or separation. Life changes like divorce may bring mental-health issues that may have always existed to the forefront.
From a non-mental health professional and someone who has worked with many people through divorce and separation, you know you are dealing with your divorce and separation in a healthy way when it does not consume every part of you. One indication that it may be consuming every part of you is when you feel the need to talk to with everyone you know about your separation in order to convince them of your point of view and this need continues for months or even years on end.
While you’re sorting out the particulars of your divorce or separation, yes, it will take a lot of your time and attention, but there will be moments when you can and should put down these problems and not think about them at all. These moments of space are important, so take them. Having said that, don’t forget to pick up your problems again (at some point) to get them sorted out in a timely way. Avoiding your problems can only make them worse.
Then when the legal matters are settled, you will gradually gain more and more space from these problems until you don’t think about them every day or even every week.
The author of the article in the Province finishes the article with a quote from the man’s eulogy by his best friend; she writes, “At his memorial service, his best friend gave the eulogy and said, in part, that family courts and spousal support in particular “creates an artificial right to another person’s successes”.
I want to say two things about this quote.
First, reading this article in the Province, as a family-law lawyer and having never met anyone involved in the case, I can say that it is troubling when friends and family of a person have been so caught up in this man’s struggles and views about his family-law case that they are eulogizing about them at his funeral.
This is a terrible story. There are no winners here, but it is simplistic and dangerous for someone to publish an article that promotes the story that the problem is family law, the family-law legal system, the other party, or the judges that made the decisions in this case. These kinds of stories discourage people who need our family legal system from accessing it for fear of their case turning into this case.
Second, spousal support does not “create an artificial right to another person’s successes”. Spousal support exists to ensure that one spouse does not unfairly benefit after relationship breakdown from all the unpaid domestic work of the other spouse, that one spouse who depended on the income of the other spouse does not suddenly end up on social assistance, and that the vulnerable spouse has a chance to (re-)establish another source of income.
The article in the Province does everyone a disservice. It perpetuates a very confused and biased story about the supposed evils of our family-law system without giving the reader the benefit of all sides of the story. Even worse, it morbidly capitalizes on a family’s darkest moments to apparently advance the author’s own uninformed views of family law and the family justice system.
A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.