The following is a comprehensive list of recommendations for men who are
facing marital separation and divorce where children are involved. These
recommendations are not legal advice. They are "street smart" suggestions
gleaned from personal experiences and the experiences of other men who have
worked their way through the minefield that is family law.
Although the statutes stress that decisions taken in family law litigation
should be, first and foremost, in "the best interests of the children", the
fact is that almost all rulings are made in favour of the mother, as
"primary caregiver" -- ostensibly "on behalf of" the children. As a father,
you, supposedly, have rights under the law, but, quite realistically, have
few rights at all. 85% of custody decisions go to the mother (mothers have
custody in the vast majority of cases); mothers rarely pay child or spousal
support fathers are routinely forced into personal bankruptcy or go
underground because they cannot pay onerous support orders; mother's
routinely withhold children from court-ordered 'access" with their fathers
as court orders for access are virtually unenforceable; family equity is
split right down the middle, even though a mother may have only provided
barely adequate child care and indifferent housekeeping as her
contribution. So you must take steps to preempt and mitigate, where
possible, a situation wherein you are at the mercy of cut-throat lawyers,
biased judges and a very flawed system.
Although the tone of this article may seem pessimistic, I propose that it
is, in fact, realistic. The plight of fathers in family law disputes is
grave. However, I am optimistic because of the tremendous devotion that so
many fathers display for their offspring in facing overwhelming emotional
and financial challenges in the simple desire to play a meaningful and
critical role in their children's lives. And I sense a rising tide of
awareness and anger in the general public, at large, at the inequalities
and abuses of their rights that fathers have been suffering for far too
long. It's time that innovative solutions like mandatory shared parenting
be written into the statutes to give fathers a chance at participating in a
reasonable fashion in their children's lives.
Once again, it must be stressed that the following is not legal advice. Ask
your lawyer / attorney for a definitive opinion on any and all of the
recommendations presented here. This document is prepared specifically
relative to Ontario, Canada family law, but most principles should work
relative to other North American jurisdictions.
The recommendations begin with the supposition that
you are still in the matrimonial home, that your marriage
is beyond saving and that mediation is not an option.
If you have already separated, pick up the suggestions
at the appropriate point.
1. Do not move out of the family home. If no
custody order is in place, and you move out, you are
granting your spouse de facto custody of your children;
you immediately expose yourself to petitions for child
and spousal support; you abandon all joint possessions
and even your personal possessions to your spouse
(and you don't have to be a lawyer to know that possession
is 9/10ths of the law); and you give your spouse leave
to petition for exclusive possession of the house in
perpetuity in "the best interests of the children"
thus tying up the house as an asset.
2. Throughout the period of final co-habitation
with your spouse, do not engage in any verbal battles..PERIOD.
If the situation is volatile, do not engage in any discussions
about legal or settlement issues. Do not engage in any
kind of verbal or physical confrontation with her. If
you do, you put yourself at the risk of her getting
an order to have you thrown out of the house and possibly
restrained from going anywhere near her, the property
and, possibly the children. If she becomes confrontational,
walk away and avoid close contact. Make the only dialogue
between the two of you be about the care and well-being
of the children and the day-to-day running of the home.
If you simply must communicate directly to your spouse
regarding matrimonial issues, do so in a written note.
You can organize your thoughts better that way and avoid
a verbal joust. Do not use inflammatory language stick
to the facts. Date the note and write "Without Prejudice"
at the top (this protects you from later use of your
note against you). And keep a copy of it for your files.
3. Throughout the period of final co-habitation
with your spouse, eliminate, or at the very least,
reduce, your consumption of alcohol. If you have
a drug / alcohol problem, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY, otherwise
you may be dead in the water. Alcohol - and most drugs
- reduce your inhibitions and may make you more aggressive
and thus in danger of confrontation with your spouse.
And later, when you come down from your high, you will
suffer from depression that will impair your ability
to function and may make you susceptible to suicide.
In almost all cases of murder / suicide in marital disputes,
alcohol is a contributing factor.
4. If there are firearms in your home, GET RID
OF THEM. Take absolutely no chances that someone
may lose it and grab a gun.
5. Get emotional counseling if you need it.
There is no stigma attached to getting help for the
stress and the anxiety depression that almost everyone
experiences during the ordeal of a high-conflict divorce.
Have your family doctor recommend a psychiatrist - covered
under provincial health plans in Canada (psychologists
and social workers are not usually covered) - or check
your employment health benefits to see if referral to
a counselor is available to employees. If you are a
member of an organized religion, your clergyman / priest
/ rabbi or affiliated lay counselors may provide assistance.
6. Transfer all money from joint spousal accounts
to your own sole accounts. If you don't, chances
are that she will clean out the accounts before you
7. Have your spouse's name removed from all joint
credit cards for which you are responsible, get
her spousal cards from her and destroy them.
8. Engage legal counsel sooner rather than later.
Be prepared for the fact that you will have to provide
a legal retainer of (typically) a minimum of $1,000
for a lawyer to begin working on your case. Make sure
your lawyer is an experienced family law specialist
not someone who does part-time family, part-time real
estate, etc. law, Ask him (or her) if he / she is aware
of the bias of the family court system against fathers
and if he (we'll assume it's a man from here on) is
willing to fight for your rights as a parent and not
be intimidated by biased court officials. For your first
meeting with him be prepared with a written outline
of the issues of your case. Do not make this a novel
about the emotions of your marital breakdown stick
to the hard, cold facts. Go to all meetings with your
lawyer with a written agenda, and with all issues, questions,
etc. spelled out in detail. Write down all responses
and action items. Be prepared to do any legwork for
him that you can (document searches, brief preparations,
etc.). Use his time wisely. The meter is ticking all
the while you are sitting in meetings with him or consulting
on the phone. And remember two things: he works for
you so be demanding; and he will not (nor shouldn't)
make decisions for you you must make them yourself
with his guidance.
9. Start and maintain in chronological order
a comprehensive and well-organized file of ALL
documents, memos, letters, briefings, affidavits pertinent
to your case. Your file is critical for referring to
past actions, issues, details. Take all relevant files
with you for meetings with your lawyer; and take the
originals plus a second set of all relevant files with
you to court appearances as back up in case your lawyer
does not have the appropriate ones with him.
10. Court actions. Don't even THINK about going
to court without a lawyer. In most cases, judges
will just laugh and scoff at you literally and tell
you to get representation. If you persist in forcing
them to allow you to represent yourself, her lawyer
and the judge will take you apart. Consult with and
rely on your lawyer for the timing and the appropriateness
of court actions. It may be in your best interests to
get to court first with a petition or motion (to be
the "petitioner"); or the other side may move quickly
and make you the "respondent" to a court action. Your
lawyer should know what strategies are best. Assist
him as much as you can with written briefs for the affidavits,
financial statements, etc. he will prepare on your behalf.
11. Start, and maintain, throughout the duration
of your case, a daily journal of all activities
relative to your interaction with your spouse and the
children. Memory is a faulty faculty. Being able to
go to your journal to find the unfiltered facts regarding
events that were written at the time of occurrence can
be a critical asset.
12. Micro-manage your money. Legal fees and,
inevitably, support payments will be major financial
hurdles you will have to deal with. Go on an austerity
budget. When you finally physically separate, you should
be aware that you may be primarily responsible for financing
two households. Start a war chest of any and all money
you can squirrel away. Line up resources for borrowing
because, eventually, you are going to have to solicit
13. Be prepared for the "equalization of family
assets". This means that, even though your spouse
may not have worked outside the house a day in her life
(her parenting and housekeeping are her contribution
to the marriage), in general, she is due 50% of all
the assets accumulated during the marriage. That is,
in general: she gets half the proceeds of the sale of
the house and properties, half the RRSP savings, half
the investments, half the family liquid assets, half
your employment pension, half the value of all vehicles
and half the furnishings, etc. of the home accumulated
during the marriage. If she works, all her assets
including RRSPs and pensions she may have accumulated
-- will be included in the division of assets.
14. A note about the "separation date":
This is a critical date for figuring out the equalization
of assets. In general, you both keep whatever assets
you brought to the marriage. However, all assets accumulated
between from the "date of marriage" until the "separation
date" are split 50/50 . The separation date is typically
the date that one of you leaves the matrimonial home.
The status of that date may change if the one who left
returns for any amount of time. A separation date may
be established while you are still together. Usually,
it's the date that you stop sleeping together in the
same room, but may require the added proviso that you
have stopped doing things together as a family.
15. Be prepared to not get any form of custody
of your children. In general, at the present time,
if you go to court in dispute over custody of the children
say you want joint custody and she wants sole custody
the biased judges in the family law system will rule
that: "since you two are in dispute over the custody
arrangement, joint custody will not work. Therefore
'in the best interests of the children', the primary
caretaker of the children (guess who?) will have sole
custody of the children." In general, the only way you
will ever get joint custody is if she agrees to it;
the only way you will ever get sole custody is if she
does not want custody at all or you can prove that she
is completely unfit and incompetent to be the custodial
parent (and you will have to have comprehensive and
incontrovertible evidence). There are cases of enlightened
judges granting joint custody when there is a dispute,
however, it is a very rare exception.
16. Be prepared to pay child support. Because
you will not get joint custody of your children in a
contested case, you will automatically be ordered to
pay full child support for all children of the marriage,
common-law relationship (or proven paternity situation).
The support order in Canada is based solely on your
gross income and the number of your children relative
to tables provided by the government. And it will be
enforced by the enforcement branch of your provincial
government if you default on payments. Once the order
is registered, the support amount will be automatically
collected from you by a government agency and paid to
your ex -- unless you both agree to opt out of the plan
and make arrangements for you to pay her directly. You
may also be liable for a percentage of childcare expenses,
based on the inequity of your salaries, if your ex is
gainfully employed. And you are liable for other "reasonable"
extra expenses, i.e.: medical, dental, schooling, sports
17. Be prepared to pay spousal support. If
your wife is a homemaker, you will be required to pay
"spousal support" until such time as she can become
gainfully employed. Some judges put a time frame to
spousal support giving the wife a period of one year,
etc. to find / return to work. In some cases, where
the wife has never worked and is at home with small
children, you may be liable for spousal support for
quite some time. If your wife is a part-time employee
or "under-employed" you may be required to provide an
equalizing amount of support relative to your income
and hers. The fact that women, typically, make less
money than men means there may be an equalization of
income by way of spousal support. There are no tables
for spousal support. The lawyers and the judge will
work out an amount and you will be ordered to pay it.
18. Pay your support orders when humanly possible.
You have an obligation to financially support your children
even if you believe the order for support was unreasonably
arrived at. If you do not pay your support, the money
will be garnisheed from your wages at source and your
savings and RRSPs, etc. will be seized. You will get
yourself into very serious financial straits if you
let the ordered amounts accumulate over the years. And
you will be hounded forever by the enforcement office.
If your income declines, go back to court and petition
for a reduction in support. But pay the support as ordered
until you get the amount reduced. Do not withhold child
support if your spouse is interfering with your time
with the children. The courts treat child support and
access as two completely separate issues. And they are.
If you withhold child support, you are engaging in the
same dirty tactics that she is. And the children are
the ones who suffer. And you look like the bad guy.
And you can't afford to look like the bad guy, given
the existing bias against you as a father.
19. Be prepared to fight for "access" with your
children. When you don't get custody status with
your children, you will be required to petition for
regular visitation or access time with your children.
The terms "access" and "visitation" are demeaning to
non-custodial parents ("family time with the children",
although long, would be a better term.), however they
are the terms used in the family courts. Depending on
your circumstances: job responsibilities, other personal
obligations, etc. you will figure out how much time
you wish to have with your children. It may be several
weekday evenings and one of the weekend days with overnights,
etc. Whatever your petition, be prepared for the majority
of judges in the family court system to rule in favour
of the mother's suggestions for your time with the children,
invariably much less time than you want. Typically,
rulings are for the father to have the children every
second weekend. Every other weekend is not nearly enough
time to maintain the bonds you have developed with your
children, but you will have to make the best of a bad
deal. If the mother does not want you to have overnight
visitation, you can be sure, in general, that you won't
get it. Once you have an order for access in place,
you can be sure that the mother's control freak nature
will surface and she will find all kinds of excuses
to withhold the children from you on a regular basis.
And, even though she may be in contempt of a court order,
don't waste your money taking her to court. A judge
will almost never penalize her in any meaningful way
for her actions, except, maybe, to lecture her (is anyone
going to fine or throw a mother of children into jail?).
Keep a record of all the withheld access visits and
have your lawyer lodge official protests that may be
used, cumulatively as proof of her contempt at later
20. If you have been cut off from seeing your
children because of malicious and false allegations
of abuse: Take the unusual step of petitioning for
"supervised access" at a centre provided by your
local or provincial government. There would have to
be tremendous extenuating circumstances for a judge
to deny this kind of petition. Even though the circumstance
of spending time with your children under supervision
will be stressful and humiliating, it will ensure that
you have regular contact with them. And, in the meantime,
you can pursue having a "family assessment" by an appropriate
professional to disprove the allegations.
21. Malicious and false allegations of child
sexual abuse have become an insidious phenomenon in
family law. A 1998 report by the Ottawa Ontario Children's
Aid Society revealed that, of 900 cases of allegations
of child sexual abuse linked to matrimonial disputes,
600 of them were proved to be completely groundless.
Meanwhile the victims of this devastating weapon (fathers
fighting for meaningful relationships with their children)
are required to PROVE their innocence. The custody /
access issue grinds to a halt as the Children's Aid,
the police and psychiatric professionals involve themselves
in an already crowded process. Access between the father
and his children is severely curtailed or terminated
and the emotional and financial costs of an already
painful process escalate. The perpetrator of this gross
injustice (the mother, usually by prompting the children)
faces no recrimination or penalty for her actions. And
the relationship between the father and his children
is severely strained or, all too often, irreversibly
22. Family assessments have become a growth
industry. With all the malicious allegations flying,
courts routinely order "family assessments" to be conducted
by social workers and psychologists who have trained
as experts in this area of the family law industry.
They interview all relevant parties and then come back
with findings and recommendations that are usually accepted
by the judge who ordered it. These professionals have
to be paid; and guess who usually gets stuck with that
bill? Often when a family assessment has been ordered,
you at least get to suggest a candidate for the job.
Make sure you propose someone who is at least impartial
about, if not outright sympathetic to, fathers' issues.
And lean on your lawyer to be forthright in the decision-making
for the assessor.
23. Face the fact that you may have to endure a
very long period of frustrations and disappointments.
The processes of the court system are slow enough and
frustrating enough on their own. Then there are the
lawyers. In collusion with their intransigent clients,
they are masters at delaying and frustrating court actions.
They conveniently and consistently "miss phone calls",
ignore messages, "miscommunicate" and "misunderstand";
disappear on holidays; ask for continuances (delays
in proceedings), all with the intention of frustrating
you from getting court actions completed that they may
feel are not in their client's interest. And the judges:
it is so unnerving to go before a judge, as a taxpayer,
sound citizen and devoted father and to be regarded
by this "god in his kingdom" as a second-class (at best)
citizen, a wannabe parent and a bottomless pit of financial
resources. And, on the other hand, treating your wife
as the only trustworthy, sane, long-suffering puritan
in view. Patience and persistence is the only thing
that will get you through, guys. Patience and persistence.
24. Maintain lines of communication with your children.
LISTEN TO THEM. Let them express their fears and concerns
and hurts. Reassure them, as much as you can. Prepare
for your time with them. Line up activities: bowling,
a movie, etc.; have the fridge stocked with their favourite
meals (from lists you can have them prepare). Don't
just let them plunk down in front of the TV and order
in fast food (although that's what they may demand).
Get them outside participating in sports and physical
activities, walking by a lake or stream, visiting favourite
relatives (don't forget Gramma and Grandpa!). Avoid
shopping even grocery shopping with them. Your finances
will be strained and you don't need the pressure they
will bring to bear on you to buy them "things". Instead,
listen and watch for a special item they may be yearning
for and, where practical, buy it for them as a surprise
gift. Make sure you buy something for each child, though.
25. Do not trash talk your ex in front of the children.
Even if you are aware that she puts you down in their
presence. The children love you both equally and your
criticisms of one another will only confuse them and
stress them even more than they already are. In the
long run, it is counterproductive for either parent
to put down the other. Eventually - and it may be a
long way down the road - the children will see through
the criticisms and lies and will turn against the trash-talking
parent. And never argue about aspects of the case or
any other issue in front of them. This will just make
them more anxious and angry about their new fractured
26. Keep in touch with your children through
any channel possible when you see them very little or
not at all. Write to them, send them cards and little
gifts, telephone them, send them emails. Keep a record
/ copies of the things you send if you suspect your
ex is intercepting your correspondences and the children
are not getting them. Somewhere down the road, you can
show your child proof of your efforts to keep in touch.
And they are going to know that it wasn't your lack
of interest in being part of their lives, but their
27. Throughout the ordeal of the divorce process,
rely on your spiritual path be it Christian,
Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist to help you get through.
Attend your church, synagogue, temple on a regular basis.
Find some quiet time for reflection and meditation,
to drop right out of your ordeal and renew your soul
28. Don't be too proud, as a man, to rely on your
friends and family for emotional support. Don't
think that you have to carry the often overwhelming
burden of the injustices and the stresses of your case
by yourself. Your friends and family, who love you,
will usually be there to share the weight of the ordeal.
WARNING: realize that, even though your family and friends
can lend a sympathetic ear, they can also get overwhelmed
by your case if you go on about it too much. Don't be
a broken record; use their sympathy wisely. And let
your friends periodically entertain and distract you
to help you relieve yourself of the seriousness of your
29. Help others in similar circumstances and
join the fight for Fathers' Rights. Be generous
with your time and advice with fellow victims of the
sham of so-called "family" law. Write letters to newspapers,
your elected representatives, the governing bodies for
judges and lawyers. Join a father's rights organization
and picket and protest the inequities in court decisions.
It will take serious and concerted efforts by all of
us to bring about the changes that are needed in the
true application of the principles of family law.
30. Get regular exercise and eat well. Try
to jog or participate in sports on a regular basis.
Avoid the grease and salt and sugar of fast food. Take
the time and care to feed yourself nutritious and healthy
foods. It bears repeating here: eat lots of fresh fruit
and vegetables; have good amounts of whole grain breads
and cereals; eat lean cuts of red meat, poultry and
fish. Make sure you go for your yearly physical.
31. Get yourself a pet. Especially a dog. There's
nothing like the unconditional love and affection of
a faithful pet when you return home from work at the
end of an exhausting day. That wagging tail, affectionate
gaze and total lack of attitude can do wonders for you.
And the walk it will demand every night will be good
for your mind and body too.
32. Be easy on yourself. You are going to feel
like a failure: a failure in marriage, a failure to
your children, a financial failure. Accept responsibility
for the role you played in the debacle, but DON'T BEAT
YOURSELF UP OVER IT. About the perceived failure of
your relationship with your wife: realize that "incompatibility
is like rain: it just happens." Realize that your children
need your emotional support, so give yourself a break:
be easy-going and affectionate with them. Realize that
you walked into a financial minefield when you entered
the domain of family law. Unless you started off filthy
rich, you are going to take a financial pounding, and
it ain't your fault. Try to not let it stress you out.
33. Last point: Women are not the enemy. Just because
your wife turned out to be your worst nightmare; and
just because family law is completely biased in favour
of mothers - even mothers from Hell; don't get down
on the "fairer sex". Family law has swung so far askew
because of the extreme and consistent lobbying efforts
of feminist organizations and because of the overt actions
of feminist-sympathizing politicians. However, your
mother, your sister, your female friends, your new partner
are all as appalled as you are at the injustice of it
all. And they stand by to help and support and nurture
you in your fight for fairness for you and your children.
(918) 382-5770 (24/7 Line)
National Coordinator, International Liaison