I was at Tim Hortons today when I was approached by a constituent that didn't like the idea of Government suspending drivers licenses of parents who refused to pay child support. I offered to buy him a coffee and sit down with him to hear his story. Geesh! I am glad I had some time on my hands this morning.
Divorce. What more can you say about this topic that hasn't been said? Everyone has a story about a couple they knew who went through a bad divorce. Everyone has a friend, co-worker or acquaintance whose parents are divorced. It's generally ugly. It's always emotional, especially when children are involved and it costs a tonne of money. Legal fees, child therapists, spousal and child support payments, custody and access arrangements etc. It creates an emotional toll on the family, extended family members, friends and quite frankly just about anyone who listens.
While practising law before becoming Minister of Justice, I had dabbled enough in family law to build a descent reputation that others who were experiencing marital matters would seek my advice. The files were always difficult, never the same and emotionally challenging. One of my biggest concerns was the delays in our family law system. For example, if a mother of two school aged children came to see me after recently separating and seeking a temporary order for custody, access and child support it would routinely take 6 months or more to obtain an order from a Judge. Herein lies the problem. Our family courts are so backed up and under resourced that in some areas of the Province, Judges are performing what are called "Triage Days." In other words, they may hear up to 15 to 20 applications for custody, access and child support in one day. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing, it shouldn't necessarily be happening. Our system is designed to be adversarial and isn't focussed on mediation as much as it should be. The Supreme Court of Canada believes that parents should be responsible enough to formalize what they believe to be in the best interests of their chil(ren) and that Courts should be minimally intrusive unless cases of serious neglect or abuse exist. I tend to agree.
In other Provinces mandatory mediation and arbitration exist. It's an effective way to allow parents sort out their schedules, marital property and finances but only after the best interests of the chil(ren) has been resolved. In places such as Nova Scotia they have a case management system that allows a Court to fast track an application for custody, access and child support within 4-6 weeks so the child(ren) are not exposed to long delays and can begin receiving support as soon as possible.
Recently, I announced the establishment of a Family Law Task Force chaired by Justice Raymond Guerette. He is an established, distinguished gentleman that has been hearing family law cases for many, many years. Prior to his appointment, I only knew him by his reputation to get things done. However after speaking with him on these important issues, I am even more confident that he and his team of senior practising family law lawyers will deliver substanive recommendations that will allow us to overhaul our family court system.
I think everyone will tend to agree that no matter how bad a couple ends up disliking each other after divorcing that their children shouldn't suffer. I am a father of three and couldn't imagine not providing for them or giving the last cent in my pocket to ensure their needs came before mine.
Thanks for listening,