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Fighting Words

by Stephen Lautens


August 23, 2002

I read in the paper that the Minister of Justice is thinking about doing some tinkering with the language of the Divorce Act.

One way or the other I don't think it will personally have any effect on me. I've been married for twelve years, and my wife says she doesn't believe in divorce. Murder yes, but not divorce.

Besides, before making an honest living I was a divorce lawyer for ten years. That doesn't frighten my wife, though. She was a divorce lawyer too, and to be honest she was a much better one than me. If push ever came to shove, I'd be lucky to hang onto my Star Wars action figures.

Our friends thought that two divorce lawyers getting married showed courage. I thought it was quite sensible, since we both had a daily lesson in what not to do if you want to keep your marriage together. One of the rules people seem to forget is that once you get married, you're supposed to stop dating other people. It seems pretty basic to me, but a lot of my former clients appeared to have trouble with this one. You're also supposed to marry people because you love them and can get along with them. Any other reason just isn't good enough, and could land you on the opposite side of my desk.

It never ceased to amaze me how bad people could be to one another. For example, I had one woman who was ordered to give her husband back all his suits that she kept locked away after they split. When he showed up at the door to collect them (with the local police in attendance), she gave them to him all right - each one with the crotch neatly cut out of the pants. At least he wasn't wearing them at the time. 

Then there was the couple who couldn't decide how to split up their stuff, so they tossed a coin to determine who would get first pick. He won. What did he pick first? Her sewing machine. 

Finally, I think the low point was when a client of mine attacked the other lawyer with an umbrella while we were still in court. It didn't matter that the other lawyer had it coming, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone came at me with a parasol.

Happily I gave up the job of "putting people asunder" years ago and now just have to wrestle with words on a page. Even so, I couldn't help wondering when I saw that the Minister of Justice is thinking about changing a couple of words in the Divorce Act to make it seem less adversarial. Words like "custody" and "access" are supposed to be eliminated from Canada's divorce laws this fall, and are going to be replaced with new terminology to make parents feel less like winners and losers when fighting tooth and nail over their kids.

No one is quite sure what the new replacement words are going to be yet, but they're supposed to emphasize the idea that both parents are responsible for their kids' upbringing. But whatever words they end up using, it's admitted that it really won't change the law - just they way they hope people will behave when mud wrestling over the kids.

Unfortunately I have to admit I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to expecting good faith from people who frequently behave badly. To me it's a little too much like deciding to stop using the word "arson", and hoping it will convince people to stop setting fires.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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