Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Systems are insidious – they keep us trapped when we know better. How do we escape the system? I don’t know. I’m part of it, it surrounds me, and I can’t elude it, and I’m forced to be complicit.

The Family Justice System is one of the systems – it uses extortion to keep me complicit.

My recognition of the toxic family justice system started with my divorce. The family justice system forced me to choose between two evils: agree to shared parenting or have it forced on me through the court system.

Ironically, the family justice system works the same way that extortion works. If I hadn’t agreed to shared parenting, my former spouse could have enforced shared parenting through the courts, as shared parenting is the “family justice system approved” approach to parenting dilemmas. I would have been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and increase the conflict in my family only to have the same result as simply capitulating, which is what I did, knowing all the while that my family truly needed mental health and emotional support.

I met with a group of moms this past weekend – they are all currently navigating their own separations. One woman was very fresh to her separation. She still believed she would be awarded primary custody. Her soon-to-be ex-spouse has never parented their young children, as he travels extensively for work. The other moms navigating the family justice rodeo for longer collectively and wistfully laughed, “Oh, he’ll get 50-50 – the only prevention to 50-50 parenting is if your co-parent is in jail.”

A lawyer was also present, as was I, and we further commented that the best thing she could do for her children was to stay out of the court system, and yes, the only way she could do that would be to agree to 50-50 parenting—the definition of extortion.

Extortion has kept me complicit. It has kept me quiet.

Every choice I have made regarding my children has been the lesser of two evils, and I’m held to this decision-making dynamic because of the current family justice system.

It carries over to my work – I either help my clients separate their finances, or they go to court. I work with my clients despite knowing that I’m not genuinely helping them – sure, they may divide their finances, but their financial and emotional pain will continue. It does not go away until they resolve their mental health issues.

I’ve continued to do this work as now I think of my client’s children. The insidious family justice system has found another way to extort me. If I don’t help my client and decide to stand my ground and say, “No! I’m not helping you with the financial situation right now; you need mental health and emotional support first,” they will go to court.

Of course, our other systems support the extortion – I have to find a way to support myself and my kids financially – this other form of extortion has also kept me quiet.

But there comes a point where keeping quiet starts to cost in other ways. It destroys a person’s soul.

So, I’m not keeping quiet any longer.

The current family justice system in BC perpetuates trauma on all levels – in children, adults and professionals who work in the justice system.

It has to stop.

There is currently a push to transform the family justice system. It is not enough. Despite the lovely people pushing for this, they all do it in their spare time – WHAT SPARE TIME? The collective is applying for grants and is getting laughably small amounts like $20,000. $20,000 is the cost of one day in court for one family!

I call on the BC government to prioritize the family justice system by providing appropriate funding to keep families out of the court system and direct them to the mental health and parenting resources they need. The people in the family justice system who are part of the transformation initiative have the know-how and ability to transform the system but need more money and resources to lead to a true transformation of the family justice system.