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The Role of CDV in the Transform Family Justice System Collaborative
 

We are recapping it here if you could not attend the dinner meeting on October 11, 2022.

Attending members participated in a roundtable discussion to discuss a recently decided case as an example of how the current family law system deals with parents who suffer from mental health issues and how the system protects the children of those parents. 

The recently decided case is timely as the decision is dated August 2022, two months after the launch of the Transform the Family Justice System (TFJS) Collaborative

The Transform the Family Justice System (TFJS) Collaborative is a multi-sectoral initiative led by Access to Justice BC to transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being.

The Vision of the Collaborative is of a family justice system that, together with other societal systems, supports children, youth and families who are experiencing family justice issues.

The principles reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Indigenous laws guide the work of the Collaborative; precisely the following eight principles:

  • equitable 

  • holistic 

  • preventative 

  • trauma-informed

  • strengths-based 

  • supportive of agency 

  • child-centred

  • nurturing relationships and belonging

 

Access to justice is not just about process; it is about creating the conditions that allow people to live a good life. Improving access to justice in the family justice system means designing a system that promotes family well-being.

CDV members know this and have known it for a long time. This knowledge has now reached the tipping point among family law professionals, evidenced by this initiative, supported by Chief Justice Robert Bauman. 

So, we have this exciting development - the people involved in family law are "mostly" on the same page about the best way to help families move forward. A better divorce protects the family, and by default, each family member has a better chance of living a happier life on their terms. 

What is the other reality of our current family law system here in BC? 

 

We have an entrenched litigation-style default family law system that is expensive, slow, and not accessible by the majority of our society. 

A summary of facts about MSR (Mom) versus DMR (Dad)

 

  •   The parents separated in 2018 when their only child was nine. 

  • The family formalized their Separation agreement on September 1, 2019, after using the Collaborative Process -they had a shared parenting arrangement. Their son was ten. 

  • All family members had mental health issues at the time of their signed separation agreement. Both mom and dad had general anxiety disorder, and their son had avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. 

  • Judge Thomas ruled in August 2022 that Dad had alienated his son (now thirteen) from his mother and has ordered the son into the Family Bridges program. 

  • MSR and DMR each paid $500,000 over the three years it took for this case to work its way through the system. 

  • DMR (Dad) comes from a very wealthy family and is retired. MSR (Mom) still works and earns $40,000 per year​​​

 

This case illuminates:

  •  How the current family law system has failed this family; yes, Judge Thomas has acknowledged that the son has been alienated and has ordered a corrective remedy. Their son, 13, has been brainwashed by his father for the past four years as Mom struggled to get someone to pay attention. Mom, 57, has limited opportunity to create financial stability before retirement, spent $500,000 she doesn't have. It appears that Dad's mental health issues have gotten worse. 

  • The Collaborative Process did not appear to help this family. 

  • The Family Law Professionals involved likely worked hard to help this family and did their best, and yet, if we asked any of the professionals involved in this case, what do you think they would say? What do you think? Is this a successful outcome? 

  • How can we help families when our work is so complex and just doing that work takes all our energy and time? 

 

On September 24, 2022, the first workshop under the Transform Family Justice Collaborative initiative took place - some of our members were there, and we spent the day thinking about how we could do just that - Transform the Family Justice system. 

We are bringing this back to our CDV members. We want to help our members do this excellent work, as we all know something needs to change. 

We also know that our members are working hard and may be unable to help transform the system due to the constraints of life. 

 

We thought we'd start here - brainstorming! We want to hear from you about Transforming the Family Justice System Collaborative, what is needed for this to happen, and what you need to help you do this good work. 

Discussion commenced, and the relevant points are summarized below:

  • The discussion first focused on the case: does it truly represent the current family law system, or is it an outlier, an example of extreme parents who do not represent most people separating and divorcing in Vancouver? 

  • The discussion began to shift as many members had anecdotal evidence of files where mental health issues had not been addressed. Many members indicated that they had no control over this piece - clients would go where they could get their divorce. Many members commented that they have no idea what happens next after the separation agreement is finalized. 

  • Many members stated that they always use a child specialist if children are involved.

  • Many members brainstormed about how to protect the children from the "fallout" of separation and divorce. Some ideas:

 

  • Alberta has a file docket system and a separate family court. Judges are seized of family court matters

  • Guidance and support for CDV members to help get more mental health professionals and child specialists involved in Collaborative files

  • A children's helpline or text line.

  • Children could take a course in schools to learn about their rights and separation and divorce. For example, a life skills course in elementary school that includes a component on relationships, separation and divorce with a follow-up in high school could be added to the current life skills course that all children in grades 8 and 10 now take. 

  • Public outreach to parents at PACs or outreach to other professional groups

  • Social Media/Marketing to reach the public

 

At the end of the discussion, members seemed energized. Members were encouraged to join either the marketing/social media committee or Best Practices Committee to keep the momentum going. See descriptions on the website about what the committees hope to do and send an email to Beatrice at admin@collaborativedivorcebc.com