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Are fathers at a disadvantage in court? 5 things fathers can do to improve their chances in court

Updated: Nov 19, 2018


It is a commonly-held view that fathers are at an unfair disadvantage in Family Court. An upcoming special on CNN, hosted by Lisa Ling, will explore this issue. In a preview, available at https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2018/11/07/this-is-life-lisa-ling-season-5-episode-7-ron-3.cnn, fathers discuss how the family court system is stacked against them. Ms. Ling focuses her investigation on American courts, but the perception that the courts are unfair to fathers is prevalent in Canada, as well.


It is true that fathers have, historically, been less likely than women to obtain sole custody and primary residence in family disputes in Canada. However, the reason for this is likely not anti-male bias on the part of family court judges. Perhaps the most significant reason for women faring better in family court is that women are significantly more likely to start and maintain family court actions than men. It goes without saying that if you don’t participate in a process, you are unlikely to obtain a positive result.


The following are five general tips for fathers to get a positive result in a custody case:


1. Participate


Never ignore a family court action. If you don’t respond, your ex can ask the court for the order she wants, and then you may be left with an unfavourable order. If your spouse serves you with a family application, take immediate action to respond.


2. Don’t approach the process with a negative attitude


It may or may not be the case that men are at a disadvantage in family court, but it’s certain that approaching the process with the view that the judge will be biased against you will not help you achieve a positive outcome. Always keep in mind that family court judges in Ontario are bound by the “maximum contact principle,” which holds that the bests interests of a child are, subject to certain caveats, best served by children having maximum contact with each parent.


3. Have a goal and a plan


In any custody and access dispute, it is critical to have a long-term goal and a plan to achieve that goal. You should avoid getting focused on short-term results unless the result is necessary for your long-term plan. For example, it might be a misstep to bring an emergency motion for equal access with your children if equal access is not practical at the time of the motion. It may be a better strategy to wait and to work on creating the conditions that would make equal access work for your children.


4. Focus on your children’s needs


Unfortunately, it is quite easy to lose sight of your children’s needs in a custody/access dispute. Emotions run high, and it’s very easy to see the process as an indictment of your capacity as a parent and your worth as a human being. No matter how tempting it may be to lash out at your spouse or to demand that your “rights” be respected, always bear in mind that the judge will be observing your behaviour to determine if you are child-focused. If you can see the process from your children’s perspective, you may find that a positive resolution is achievable.


5. Get Legal Help


A custody/access dispute is very difficult to navigate without a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, consider applying for Legal Aid or contacting JusticeNet, which provides referrals to family lawyers who will work for a lower hourly rate for eligible individuals. Contact Purves-Smith Law for a free consultation to determine if I may be able to assist you with your custody and access issues.