How to Approach a High Conflict Custody Dispute?

By John T. Syrtash, Associate, Garfin Zeidenberg LLP, a Toronto family law lawyer for the past 39 years (see

Managing High Conflict Custody Disputes

Question: I am currently in a high custody dispute with my wife concerning our two sons. My wife lied to the Court about me abusing her and the children to gain temporary custody of the children. I have more than enough evidence to prove that she intentionally misled the Court. How likely is the Court to find her in contempt (and reverse her Order for sole temporary custody based upon her lies)? What is the best approach to force the Court to hold her accountable for her false statements?

Answer: There is no question that perjury is a criminal offense, but spouses are rarely prosecuted in matrimonial disputes. Moreover, it is only “contempt” if your wife has disobeyed a Court order. She may be guilty of perjury, but such findings are very, very rare. However, the more she lies, the more she loses credibility in the custody dispute. But disproving her false statements does not necessarily prove that you are the superior parent. You must now demonstrate to the Court your intimate understanding, bonding, close relationship to, parental skill, and knowledge of the children’s needs. Warring parents often lose sight of what judges look for. What evidence can you offer the Court that you understand your children’s needs and not just provide evidence of mom’s faults and lies?
After almost four  decades in the business, a few rules of thumb have evolved that you may wish to consider if you find yourself at odds with the other parent in a parenting dispute:

Do not take out your frustrations, anger, and loneliness on your kids. Separation is a tough time (for them, especially). Do not use your child as a sounding board. The child is not your therapist or friend. You are there to help him/her cope, not the other way around.

Suppose your child wants to give you news about the other parent. In that case, it may be because the child has an agenda of his/her own. To “play” one parent against the other, or to be more favored over a sibling, or for some other reason. The truth may only resemble what the child says. More importantly you

If you have a financial or other types of dispute with your ex, try not to use your child as a weapon. So, if you have an access visit planned and your ex misses a support payment, don’t cancel the other parent’s access visit that weekend. Similarly, if you’ve just had your support payment garnisheed, don’t cancel your weekend visit because of your anger with your spouse. You are only hurting your child.

If you can’t stand the sound of your spouse’s voice anymore, let alone have a reasonable discussion? Consider discussing the child’s schedule, schooling, and health issues, with your spouse, by email. If email breaks down, try out Our Family Wizard, an online communications tool for separated parents. Communication is monitored. The cost is nominal.

Unsure how to handle birthday parties, vacations, obtaining written consent for travel, etc., or conflicting schedules? If you have a very hostile relationship, you may wish to jointly retain a “Parenting Coordinator” who will act as a referee (and you and your spouse split that cost). Sometimes the Parenting Coordinator can decide any dispute if he or she also serves as an arbitrator with mutual consent in writing.

Does the separation stress out your children? Different community organizations have special programs designed for kids going through a separation. For instance, the United Way in Toronto runs the “Families in Transition” program. Jewish Family & Child Services and some YMCA’s have similar programs. You should also contact the children’s teacher, principal, and guidance counselor to alert them to these stresses.

The most important rule is your children’s needs, not your own –this should be your guiding principle and your number one priority.

John Syrtash is an associate and family law lawyer with the Toronto firm of GARFIN ZEIDENBERG LLP.

John T. Syrtash B.A. (Hon.) LL. background:
Invited Speaker on Bill 78, Proposed Changes to Canada’s
Divorce Act, House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (November 26, 2018)
Editor of the Syrtash Family Law Newsletter, Lexis Nexis
President of the Syrtash Spousal Support Database
Author of Religion and Culture in Canadian Family Law, Butterworths
Author A Calendar of Northern Fables, Amazon

Neither GARFIN ZEIDENBERG LLP nor John Syrtash is liable for any consequences arising from anyone’s reliance on this material, presented as general information and not as a legal opinion.

John T. Syrtash, Associate
Yonge-Norton Centre
5255 Yonge Street, Suite 800
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M2N 6P4
Cell: (416) 886-0359
Fax: (416) 512-9992

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