An Amicable Road Less Travelled

Edmonton Sun
Published: Wed, February 4, 2009

The case of an Ontario woman who lost custody of her three kids for alienating them from their father is an extreme example of how hate-filled parents can damage their children.

For more than a decade, the woman ignored access-related court orders meant to maintain the children's relationship with their father.

It got so bad that the father was reduced to shouting good night through the door of his kids' home, hoping they could hear him.

Last month, this sociopath of a mom got her just desserts. A no-nonsense judge yanked the three girls, aged 9 to 14, away from their mother and granted sole custody to their father.

The burning question, of course, is why it took so long for the courts to intervene.

For years, the mother poisoned the well of compromise, eventually alienating the kids from their father to the point that he never saw them.

It's hard to say how often this sort of loony behaviour goes on.

From time to time, I get e-mails from men urging me to investigate what they claim is an epidemic of court orders being disobeyed by women.

Frankly, I have no idea whether this is true and sitting in family court for hours or trying to sort through the he-said-she-said accusations in stacks of affidavits is not my idea of a good time.

Let's presume, however, that some warring spouses do blatantly violate court orders. Are they ever punished? If there are no consequences, it's no wonder that these wacko spouses take it as a green light to continue ignoring the courts.

How about a weekend in jail for the first violation and a week in the slammer for the second? Continued breaches should mean longer jail terms or, if necessary, a loss of custody to the other parent, as happened in the Ontario case.

Fortunately, most divorcing couples are wise enough to split as amicably as possible for the kids' sake. Settling their affairs out of court also saves them tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

But for divorcing couples who can't resolve their differences, court is not the only option. There's also mediation and an out-of-court settlement process known as collaborative family law.

Both are significantly cheaper than a "knock-down, drag-em-out" court squabble, says Marla Miller, an Edmonton registered family mediator and collaborative family lawyer.

She trained as a mediator more than 20 years ago at the urging of her uncle, the late Tevie Miller, who was the associate chief justice of the Court of Queen's Bench.

Her uncle's advice was: "If you can, stay out of court," she recalls.

"He didn't think that court was the proper forum for resolving family disputes. I didn't need a whole lot of convincing."

The trouble with going to court is that while divorcing couples get an answer, it's not necessarily a solution, says Miller.

Court revolves around conflicting affidavits and divisive examinations for discovery, not healing or understanding, she adds.

"What parents need are workable solutions that sustain them," she explains.

She emphasizes to her mediation clients that the best thing they can do for their kids is give them permission to unconditionally love the other parent.

She sees mediation as a creative way of opening up discussion and understanding to find win-win scenarios.

"I feel good about what I do," she says.

"If you think about when your kids fight and how ... that tears you apart, just imagine what you do to your kids when you and the other parent are fighting."