A Canadian judge recently expressed his frustration with a couple who spent over $500,000 on a bitter child custody battle.
“How did this happen?” asked exasperated Ontario Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz. “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”
After a 36-day trial, Judge Pazaratz awarded sole custody of the eight-year-old girl to her father, in part it appears, because he was the more reasonable of the two.
The husband ended up spending $300,000 on legal fees, the wife, $200,000.
“Pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case,” Pazaratz continued. “These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.”
“And yet somehow, between them, they spent more than half a million dollars on lawyers ‘to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves.”
“No matter what costs order I make, the financial ruin cannot be undone. They’ll never recover. Their eight-year-old daughter’s future has been squandered.”
The judge had particularly harsh words for the “unreasonable behavior” of the mother, who balked at many settlement offers and ended up getting a deal far worse than those she rejected. He accused her of “poisoning” the child against her father, “manipulating and falsifying evidence” and engaging in “provocative and dangerous behaviour,” such as stalking and driving behind his car after he picked up their daughter.
In denying her sole custody, Pazaratz said the woman was determined to alienate the daughter from her father when she learned that he was moving in with another woman. “A cold war set in — with disastrous consequences” for their only child.”
“The (husband) had decided to move on without her. And now he wanted to take his half of the assets with him. The (wife) vowed to punish him for his betrayal; for threatening her world.”
“And (their daughter) got caught in the cross-fire,” he wrote in his January custody ruling.
The mother was “overt, manipulative, scheming, deceitful and oblivious to the needless family suffering she perpetuated for at least the last three years,” he added. “Our family court system has zero tolerance for this type of emotional abuse of children.”
His ruling on costs was equally tough on the mother. Judge Pazaratz ordered her to pay her ex-husband $192,000.00 to cover almost two-thirds of his legal bills.
His judgment should be required reading for all parents contemplating litigation war.
The judge concluded by referring to an e-mail from three years earlier when the husband urged his ex to settle their issues between themselves.
“In retrospect, his sombre warning about ‘spending $40 – $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees’ now amounts to wishful thinking,” Pazaratz said wryly.
“All of this could have been avoided. All of this should have been avoided. Courts have an obligation to deliver that message, so parents will stop pretending that hard-ball custody litigation is ‘for the sake of the child.’”
Justice Alex Pazaratz’s judgments are considered a must-read by family lawyers.
His literary prowess can be traced back to his days as a newspaper intern before entering law school. A few of his compelling quotes:
“Somehow, no matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be getting the message out to separating parents:
“Nasty doesn’t work.
“Withholding the child doesn’t work.
“Sarcastic e-mails don’t work.
“Bad-mouthing the other parent doesn’t work.
“Twisting the child’s life to create a new status quo … doesn’t work.
“Selfish decisions which may be emotionally satisfying in the short term, never look good in a courtroom.
“In the classic Christmas movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ there’s an extended fantasy sequence where Jimmy Stewart anguishes over how badly things would have turned out if he’d made a reckless, impulsive decision.
“Perhaps family court should fund an instructional movie about this type of custody battle. ‘It’s a Terrible Life.’ There could be a fantasy sequence about how happy a child might have been. If only …”
“Breaking Bad, meet Breaking Bad Parents,” he wrote about another case in 2014. “The former is an acclaimed fictional TV show … The latter is a sad reality show playing out in family courts across the country.”
“Breaking Bad Parents: When smart, loving, caring, sensible mothers and fathers suddenly lose their parental judgment and embark on relentless, nasty litigation, oblivious to the impact on their children.”
“Spoiler Alert,” Pazaratz continued. “The main characters in both of these tragedies end up pretty much the same. Miserable. Financially ruined. And worst of all, hurting the children they claimed they were protecting.”
I couldn’t agree more with Judge Pazaratz and that is why my practice does not include litigation and why I won’t indulge parents who insist on custody battles.
Divorcing spouses can save much time, money, and stress and protect their children from needless conflict with litigation alternatives, such as collaborative divorce and mediation. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.