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Does Family Law Deserve the Bad Rap?

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

It probably goes without saying that the Law (and lawyers) have a bad reputation. In particular, Family Law is notorious for inducing resentment – from those who go through (or are dragged into) its processes, and from those who are affected directly or indirectly by its principles and outcomes.

The question is whether the unfavourable assessment is a fair one – at least compared to other areas of the Canadian legal system.

Part of the reason the complaints are so widespread is that it’s the one realm – more than any other – to which most people are likely to be exposed at one point or the other in their lives. Whether it’s during relatively happy times (i.e. pre-marital contracts or cohabitation agreements) or more unhappy ones (i.e. separation, divorce, child custody, and estate planning), Family Law principles and proceedings come into play. So as long as human beings continue to connect to and disconnect from each other, Family Law can have a role to play in governing that process.

The other reason is that, by definition, emotions run high in family-related proceedings, and this means that any “wins” or “losses” in the family court system are felt with especially acute impact by its participants. Talk to any random stranger on the street, and eventually, they will share some personal complaint or injustice, or even just a story about someone they know who (apparently) “got taken” in a divorce. Or open a newspaper to find a discussion of some controversial child custody case, high-profile spousal support settlement, or celebrity divorce dispute.

In prior blogs, I have written about the Family Law judgments of Justice Quinn, which display an unusual candor and often-comical analysis of the cases over which the judge is presiding. But since his judicial mandate extends to the full spectrum of legal areas, Justice Quinn hears cases of all types. In one commercial litigation case called Verge Insurance Brokers Ltd. v. Sherk, he draws parallels between the civil case before him, and the Family proceedings to which he is well-accustomed.

In his judgment in connection with an employment matter involving an insurance salesman’s dismissal from a family-run brokerage, and his alleged breach of a non-competition agreement, Justice Quinn writes:

There is much about this case that resembles a Family Court proceeding involving an adulterous spouse: passion has pilfered all perspective; judgment that would otherwise be insightful is clouded; bitterness hangs in the air; and, the IQs of the parties have temporarily dropped to the ambient temperature of the courtroom (otherwise, why would this family be exposing its dirty corporate laundry in such a public forum).

The parties are discovering that revenge has an odour – it is the smell of burning money.

And then in the footnote, Justice Quinn adds:

With a whiff of singed reputation.

So this begs the question – is Family Law different from other areas of the law? Or is it just the one that feels most familiar, gets the most “play” in everyday life, and attracts the most attention?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Verge Insurance Brokers Ltd. v. Sherk, 2013 ONSC 7855 (CanLII)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.