“Completely Dysfunctional Couple” Headed for Bankruptcy in Their High-Conflict Case
When relationships end, some people move on rather seamlessly. Others double-down on getting vindication for perceived injustices, and end up in court to resolve an endless array of differences. Sometimes that litigation goes on nearly as long as the relationship itself lasted.
An Ontario case called T.L.B.L. v. T.E.M, was one of this second type. It offers a glimpse of the worst kind of family dispute – the type where the former couple take a “scorched earth” approach. In the process they ruin their own financial and emotional well-being, and very likely that of their children.
The case involved a former couple who had been in a common law relationship, and had twin 10-year old children together. Their protracted litigation involved issues relating to child and spousal support, property (including two pet Husky dogs) and an array of grievances they each brought before the court.
It had devolved into what the court-ordered parenting assessment expert, Dr. Jaffe, called “an extremely high degree of conflict … beyond what one would expect even for a high conflict custody case”. He described the couple’s conflicts as being “profound and endless”. In his report aimed at determining what was in the best interests of the children, Dr. Jaffe described the situation this way:
The parents bring out the worst in each other and have established a pattern in their relationship over the years together that is completely dysfunctional … The parents are involved in litigation that is one of the most extreme possible within the family courts because of how their lives were totally intertwined within their home, community and work. Each parent has unrealistic expectations of how the courts are going to resolve the conflicts and vindicate them. They are drained financially and emotionally and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from their RRSPs in litigation. They are headed towards bankruptcy without any resolution in sight or even an agreement on how to resolve the many issues.
Although this was merely the opinion of the expert assessor, the court had its own admonishment of the couple’s conduct:
Most intelligent parents, having the best interests of their children in mind, would have considered Dr. Jaffe’s remarks as a warning. Not in this family. The parties did not allow Dr. Jaffe to complete the assessment. Instead, the conflict and arguments on every issue continued up to and during the trial in 2021. The evidence tendered at trial, and the manner in which the parties participated, confirmed the accuracy of Dr. Jaffe’s remarks.
The parties spent their life savings, with additional borrowed funds, on this litigation. Nothing of consequence was resolved. When funds were depleted, the parties had to represent themselves at trial.
The parties’ focus in the almost eight years of litigation has been their conflict, blaming each other regularly and repeatedly, rather than on their children. The children have been put in the middle of the parents’ conflict, told far too much about adult issues and regularly forced to observe the parents’ inappropriate conduct. The children have, sporadically, been in counselling. There can be no dispute, the children have suffered and, in all likelihood, are permanently damaged.
It did not have to be this way. This is not how family law disputes should be addressed, even when a trial is necessary.
For the full text of the decision, see:
T.L.B.L. v. T.E.M., 2021 ONSC 8235