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Over Three Years and $500,000 Later, Judge Laments Financial “Tragedy” Parents’ Custody Battle

tradegyOver Three Years and $500,000 Later, Judge Laments Financial “Tragedy” Parents’ Custody Battle

In a costs ruling from earlier this month in an Ontario custody battle, the court began its ruling this way:

There are many factors to be considered in deciding costs. I will review them below.
But pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case.
These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.
And yet somehow, between them, they spent more than half a million dollars on lawyers “to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves.”
No matter what costs order I make, the financial ruin cannot be undone. They’ll never recover. Their eight year old daughter’s future has been squandered.
How did this happen? How does this keep happening?
What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?

The court’s lament was particularly poignant given that the father had written an e-mail to the mother, long before the court case started, imploring her to be reasonable and avoid “spending 40 to 50 thousand dollars apiece in lawyer fees.” In the end, about 3.5 years later, the father had actually spent $300,000 on lawyers in order to obtain sole custody of their daughter, while the mother had incurred more than $200,000 in legal fees to resist his claim.

Given his overall success in the matter, the father went back to court for an order requiring the mother to pay his legal costs incurred. To that end, the court scrutinized the various offers to settle that the parents had made to each other during the course of the hearings, as well as their overall approach to the litigation. In particular, it found that the wife had engaged in “unreasonable behaviour” by refusing the father’s reasonable settlement offers, by fabricating or manipulating the evidence, and by attempting to alienate the child from her father.

For that reason (among others) the court ordered the mother to pay the father $192,000 in costs and then added: “All of this could have been avoided. All of this should have been avoided.”

What are your thoughts on the court’s rather sobering comments?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Jackson v Mayerle, 2016 ONSC 1556 (CanLII)

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