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Canadian Judge: Real Life Imitates Art in Kramer v. Kramer Case

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Canadian Judge: Real Life Imitates Art in Kramer v. Kramer Case

Given the prevalence of divorce and related family litigation in Canada – and the inherent acrimony and emotionality of the process – sometimes one has to wonder about the view from the judicial bench. Watching the daily relentless parade of recalcitrant spouses, many of whom are intent on “having their day in court” and “sticking it” to their Exes, must sometimes take its toll on even the most hardened judges.

Needless to say, judges are chosen for their ability to be impartial in their decision-making, but that does not mean that they have no opinion on the utility or merits of the litigation process in any particular case, or that they can easily overlook the human costs of that process. In a case decided just a few weeks ago called Kramer v. Kramer, the court began the judgment with a lament:

The style of cause in this matter inevitably causes one to think of the film Kramer v. Kramer (1979) starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. The film was essentially about the struggle of a separated couple with respect to the custody of their son. The film portrayed well the myriad emotions that two parents experience given their new status as separated parents and their anguish. It “ended” with the mother realizing that her son was best off with his father. Obviously the film was a dramatic recreation of a point in time in the lives of such parents and the child. As life goes on, the child and the parents grow up as it were.

The Kramers in [this] matter unlike their Hollywood counterparts did not evolve as well. Their separation (which is never “pretty”) revealed their basic natures. Dale Kramer (Dale) was an inventor with a passion for flight, probably ill-equipped to deal with intense emotional issues to the extent any of us are. Linda Kramer (Linda) was a worker bee, who became increasingly “strong” in the sense of “controlling” in the emotional issues the couple encountered. Her evolution in this regard for a significant period of time “gutted” Dale.

So now almost 15 years later we can see their route since separation, strewn, as it were, with the alienation of children and the dissipation of their economic base as a couple. The latter is all that is left for a court to pick over. On many occasions during the course of this litigation this judicial observer has, along with colleagues, had the sense that this exercise could make for “slim pickings.” There have been numerous exhortations by the court to try and resolve their differences, for the sake of avoidance and possibly to simply get on with their lives. Colleagues have attempted through pretrial mediations to achieve that end. All of these exhortions and efforts were regrettably for naught.

With this prelude, the court reluctantly went on to write almost 250 paragraphs of a judgment designed to determine all the issues between the parties; these included a retroactive claim by the wife for almost $500,000 to recoup amounts she had spent profligately on the children, which the court said – in light of the parties’ impoverished circumstances – had a “theatre of the absurd element. Or it is like the band who continued to play as the Titanic sank.”

What are your thoughts on cases like these?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Kramer v. Kramer, 2014 ONSC 5952 (CanLII)

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