A Day in the Life: Court Uses “Ladder” Metaphor to Get Through to Firefighter Dad
In an upcoming blog about an Ontario court decision in which the court was tasked with sorting out a particularly acrimonious, high-conflict separation and divorce between couple. The result was a written court ruling that took up more than 1,200 paragraphs.
Obviously, the court had quite a lot to say. And what was especially noteworthy was the court’s attempt to “get through to” the parents in a manner that they will understand.
The court prefaces that unusually-lengthy ruling with the following comments:
In addition, of course, to the monies spent by the parties, there has been an incredible expenditure of community resources in an attempt to address the conflict this family faces.
The financial cost is just one aspect of the damage done to this family.
The emotional cost to the parties, and in particular to the children, is something that cannot be quantified.
This court heard fourteen days of trial.
This court, at the risk of being accused of being delusional or blinded by eternal optimism, has crafted a decision pursuant to which the court is optimistic that the respondent father’s mentality can be changed from one of “war” as it has been described until now, to one in which the objective is changed from “winning” and “destroying” the other parent to one in which the objective is to have an environment pursuant to which the children can be free to love both parents and can freely move back and forth between them willingly, happily and without the need for the intervention of any of the resources earlier referred to.
This court is not naïve and does not expect that that will occur overnight but on the other hand, this court believes that if it did not try to create that situation it would have let these children down and simply “given up” on them. This court is not prepared to do that.
The court’s next step was to comment on the approach taken by each of the parents throughout the protracted litigation, first to castigate the father, and then to laud the mother. About the father, the court used a metaphor that it hoped would resonate with the father, writing:
As will be seen in this judgment, this court has found that the respondent father has engaged in a “war” as two witnesses have indicated he characterized it at the beginning. The respondent of course denies that he said this but his actions speak far louder than any words that he could have uttered.
The respondent is an acting District Fire Chief and therefore the court has found it appropriate to use a word picture involving a ladder, being a piece of equipment associated with firefighting.
This court finds that the respondent has climbed a ladder and reached the top almost realizing his perceived goal. That goal was to have control over the children and to be in a situation where the mother of those children, being a mother whom he chose for them, was totally marginalized. He almost achieved that goal in that the children at their current ages have each expressed that they do not wish at the current time to have any meaningful relationship with their mother, nor to spend time with her on a regular basis.
This court hopes that the respondent father will see, as this court sees so clearly, that the wall that his ladder should have been against, and the wall that hopefully he will climb after he climbs down from this current ladder is one in which at the top of the wall is a situation whereby the children have a healthy relationship with both parents and can freely love each of them without feeling any guilt towards the other. Love is not a finite quantity pursuant to which if you give love to one of your parents you must take it away from the other. In fact, the children can also love the respondent father’s girlfriend as a “stepmother” without having to feel that by doing so they need to thereby not love their biological mother.
In contrast was the mother’s conduct throughout, which the court found was praise-worthy overall:
This court would be remiss if, in its summary of this case, it did not comment on the applicant mother. This court finds, as with any parent, the applicant mother is far from perfect. In fact, some of her actions, likely taken out of fear of losing her children, exacerbated the situation. This court finds that her parenting style is far more structured than that of the respondent father which “played into” his desire to alienate the children from their mother.
Having said that, the applicant mother has been subjected to not only emotionally abusive treatment from the respondent father and those under his “control” but emotionally and even physically abusive behavior from the children. The court does not “blame” the children as, there is an obvious reason why they are behaving in the manner in which they are behaving.
Many, and in fact probably most, mothers even those who deeply love their children would have “thrown in the towel” by now, but the applicant mother did not. That, this court finds, is not only to her credit but will be something that this court anticipates in years to come will be greatly appreciated by her children.
With that preface to the subsequent 1,200 paragraph’s worth of specific rulings designed to resolve the couple’s dispute, the court added – perhaps optimistically – that:
… this court has crafted a decision that it believes is one that could result in a 180° change being made in their lives from one of adversarial conflict between their parents, the extended families, and unfortunately the children themselves and their mother, to one in which they are allowed once again to “be children” and not have to constantly be concerned about the conflict between their parents.
The court’s stated objective is a good one, and it applies with equal pertinence to anyone embroiled in family litigation involving custody and access issues.
For the full text of the decision, see: