Observing the practices in family court in Alberta, Canada and Queensland, Australia, both supposedly using the same legal system, Queensland leaves Alberta for dead. The professionalism, thoroughness, and level of care, is so superior, I am embarrassed by what happens in Alberta. But even Queensland has plenty of room for improvement and the horror stories of what happens in family court are not unique to one country.
This is my wish list:
1. Actually take the time to assess the needs of the children, don’t just assume the parents are equipped to understand what that is. Having a family in crisis present at court is an opportunity to assess, prevent and educate. Use it. Follow up whatever programmes are set in place for the children.
2. Assess the parenting skills of the parents, insist on them getting the help they need to better understand their roles. Follow up whatever is set in place. Make sure it happens.
3. Educate on the dangers of PAS and make sure neither parent is abusing their child. Emotional Abuse may leave invisible scars but the wounds are just as painful for the child. Pay close attention to the dynamics of the family. Use common sense.
4. Look at the total financial picture, before making a decision. If the wife deserves a standard of living, so does the husband. Women cannot claim to be equal and then insist they need special consideration when it comes to their future. They are as capable of earning money to support themselves as the husbands are and husbands are as capable of taking care of the children. It has to be equal responsibility and benefit.
5. Insist all people involved in family court be trained. Check and have ongoing education to assure they are carrying out their jobs without falling into stereotypes or being prejudiced against either moms or dads. Not all fathers are dead beats and not all moms are abusing the system.
6. Uphold the rules of court. Perjury is against the law. Perhaps enforcing it will make parents think twice about making false accusations and using their day in court to destroy one another.
7. Enforce the court orders. If a parent is supposed to have visits, let the other parent have legal means to see that is done. If a parent moves, making it impossible for the other parent, hold them legally accountable for breaching the orders.
8. Stop the circle of “call the police, call social services.” Which one? Someone take responsibility and stop passing the buck. These two departments should be working together and respect one another’s concerns and suggestions.
9. Use common sense. Police presence can prevent trauma for everyone. A woman cannot serve the man accused of abusing her with his restraining order. Of all the events that need financial support, serving the documents has to be one of the most important. The court encourages the parents not to fight in front of the children and then they set up legal processes that cause needless drama.
10. Hold Social Services responsible for their consistent non action on reported cases when it is proven that they failed the children. Fire the people who looked the other way. Accept that there is a possibility of corruption in that department and make sure that none of the people involved in any case have prior connections that present conflict of interest in carrying out their duties.
11. Make sure the lawyers who are assigned to represent a child have some ability to understand children and that they take their job seriously. Of all the jobs lawyers do this is one where they need to have some aptitude for it beyond “I’m available to take a case.”
12. If you can accept that a child is capable of lying and saying a parent is abusive when they are not, then surely it is not a big stretch to consider a child is capable of lying and saying everything is OK, when it is not. Parents can influence a child to lie either way. A good lawyer, Social Worker, Police Officer should be able to see that.
13. Have follow ups with the children and families as to the effectiveness, or lack of, of the courts rulings. Use that information to better educate judges and lawyers and to make changes to the system. Hold judges accountable when they show a clear consistent record of having erred in their decisions to cause more damage, as in … fire them.
Right now family court is such a joke as to be a complete waste of time. It is more about the relationships between lawyers, judges, Children’s Services, the Police, and the clerks, than it is about the facts of each case. Of all the courts, this is the only one where the laws depend on the mood of the judge hearing the case. If they have a bad dad, all the people appearing in front of them are going to have a bad day. If they have a good day, they are more likely to put in some effort. If the case in front of you has a dead beat dad, chances are all dad’s appearing on that day are going to be tainted as dead beats. People can speak rudely, they can lie, they can completely disregard the orders of the court, and no-one follows up or cares.
These are our children. When they are brought before the court for help in sorting out their family problems, let’s err on the side of caution. It is the perfect time to double check and it should take priority over programs to help them after they break the law and rob a store or kill someone. THIS is prevention opportunity. Let’s use it.