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  • Writer's pictureJulia Gillis

Are You the Better Parent? BC Moms Struggling in the Family Law System, Failing at Fairness

Are you a single or separated mother, living in BC, forced to share your kids 50/50 with the father because the court says that is what is best for your children?

I've seen this a lot. My friends group is actually full of strong, smart, talented, independent mothers who have separated from their children's fathers. Every week these women do the exchange; they give extra hugs & kisses, then take a deep breath. Their children are going to their dads house for 3-6 days, because they have to. Sometimes the fathers have argued for this. Sometimes lawyers have suggested it, recommending that the law courts will insist on it anyway because a judge wont sign off on a divorce or separation otherwise. Sometimes a judge will simply tell you: this is how it's going to be.

For either parent, in BC, unless the other parent 'gives it up' or you have a stack of documented proof that the other parent is substantially inadequate as a safe guardian - 50/50 is going to happen.

The repetition I hear from Justice Counsellors, Lawyers, Social Workers & other professionals involved in the BC Family Law system is that "if the child is accustomed to a relationship or connection with both parents, then healthy, continuity of 'shared' care is best for the child." Meaning: if both parents have been involved with the child before separation, they need to both remain involved with the child after separation - equally.

From a nurture & care standpoint - this is kind of f*cked.

Are there fathers that are amazing, nurturing, attentive, loving parents? Absolutely. They build great school lunches, they know that daily routines are the backbone of a child's emotional regulation & sense of safety, they know all of the small details needed to pack up for swim lessons & dance recitals & they redirect catastrophes into learning opportunities with warmth.

But those usually aren't the dads that the 70% of women initiating divorce are throwing to the curb.

I'm an advocate of blue jobs & pink jobs. The male brain & female brain are wired differently - and for a good reason. We make a great team when we respect the other's strengths & compliment the other's weaknesses.

This goes for non-heteronormative couples & parents as well. I fully support, believe in & love the full spectrum of human pairing & family grouping in all the weird & wonderful ways - but that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog. Don't bother sending me corrective hate mail on all of the rainbow of family systems I didn't address here.

Back to blue job/pink job: what I observe in many of the marriages with kids that fall apart is a mother experiencing a burden of both roles. With the need for double income homes, especially in the BC real estate & economic climate - women are bread winners as well as home care. The emotional labor of the family administration & organizing schedules, plus the 'nurturing' that comes from a mother's role is now suffocated by a part or full time work schedule.

So our romantic relationship is breaking down because the father/husband role is not being adequately filled. We just have one more person in the house that we are 'taking care of' rather than having a symbiotic, supportive & sufficient team member. The answer is to tell that person to get out, since they are an adult who can take care of themselves. All they are doing is creating more pressure in our lives & haven't taken over 50% of the home support responsibilities even though we've taken over 50% of the protector/provider role.

So then the courts & BC Family Law gets involved.

A mother is supposed to hand over one or more children to the father, usually every 7 days. Maybe its a trade off of 3 days with one, then 4 days with the other, then switch.

And what happens? Kids are with mom. Bed time routine stays the same, even with dad not in the house. Dinners & lunches get made the same. The before-school routine is orchestrated similar to before the divorce because maybe dad wasn't really a part of that in the first place. Doctor appointments are set, soccer season arranged to fit with swimming & gymnastics, afterschool child care is secured, playdates are made with other moms & their kids that all like each other & some how laundry is done, bathrooms are cleaned & screen time is monitored.

Then kids go to dads. A week later, moms see their kids who are dysregulated from too much screen time, lower quality nutrition, not having consistent bed times & wake up times, missed practices & appointments, a rash that's gotten worse that hasn't been monitored, less showers than their body odor needs & tantrums for returning to boundaries & behavioral expectations after being feral (wild animals) for 7 days.

Mothers are having a court system tell them to leave their children in the care & guardianship of another person, for 50% of the time, who has possibly never been involved in raising, nurturing or caring for those children - even though they were IN the home, prior to separation.

This is 1,000 times worse if the dad is a narcissist.

**And of course - this can work in the opposite direction. There are absolutely 'negligent mothers' who have more guardianship than their inactive & irresponsible participation should be allowing.

This system is resting on the outline of 'good enough' parenting. The Ministry of Children & Family Development are looking at standards of care that only set restrictions on a parent if endangerment & harm are documented & proven. Are the children being harmed? Are the children unsafe? Well...if not then....

A court or the ministry don't have time for claims of inconsideration, lack of thoughtfulness, laziness, idiocy or, what most of us are fighting - mediocrity. They just....don't.

When loving, caring, attentive, organized, hard working mothers with established standards of childrearing look at a partner that is making their role more difficult and say, "I've had enough - my children & I deserve better," - we are opening ourselves up to the very probable outcome that we have to allow those children we are trying to protect - to be placed in the care of a parent 50% of the time, who was never 'parenting' in the first place.

We were living a nightmare with them in the home with us, but had our children under our watch & nurtured by us 90% of the time. Then we remove the inadequate team member, dragging us down, only to find that they now get to take 50% of our legacy project with them, to care for them, out of our sightline. We get our kids back after a week of sh*tty parenting and have to double back or double up on our efforts.

How is this serving our children?

Many of us moms have to take the defensive stance of, "Good, now my ex will realize how much effort it takes & how much work I was doing!"

But realistically - that happens less than half the time & it doesn't 'serve' our children well. Most of us moms live with low grade anxiety & guilt while our children are in the care of their fathers, knowing they are not getting the quality or consistency of care we provide.

So what about the kids? What about their experience? The argument that MCFD & the law courts make is the 'relationship' the child has with each parent needs to be fairly represented, exercised & accessed. Sure. But that's not what 50/50 custody does.

It places the children in the 'care' of an adult for 50% of the time who has limited experience in being that child's guardian. They were present; but often have no history of being responsible for that child's 'care' such as organizing & answering that child's needs for safety, validation, development & nurture.

The children don't see this. They see their father, their dad. Whose previous role may have been a lot less 'parent' & a lot more playmate. Many children in this situation wind up 'loving dad's house' with less rules, less structure, less boundaries, more play time, more fun, more tech time & sometimes, just sometimes - wind up with a caretaker complex for dad. They see him as needing the same type of help that 'mom' provided before the separation & they don't want dad to 'feel alone.' They see that dad...needs help.

Does a little bit of stress & discomfort serve our children? Do difficult experiences & tribulation create resilience & grit during development?

It sure does.

Is this the type we want our children to experience?

Absolutely not.

Biologically, children are meant to be raised not only by a parenting team - they are meant to be raised in a village. Having children shuffled between 2 homes with major disparity of 'care & nurture,' representing this idea as 'fairness for the relationship with both parents' is absurd.

The MCFD, Child Protective Services, Social Workers & the BC Family Law courts stress "continuity of care."

This is not what the standard of 50/50 coparenting does for our children.

It actually fragments the continuity of care.

This system only works if the children are being cared for by a complete family unit at both houses. There needs to be a human in both the mother role & father role at both homes that the child is going to. The unit already broke down because the mother was playing both roles, without the father adapting or shifting in a comparable manner.

Do I have a solution for this? No.

Do I have some offensive & combative suggestions. I sure do.

Is the answer for all of these scenarios uniform? Nope.

So what can I offer? At the end of this...what do I want BC mothers who are separated from their children's father to know?

It is this: if you believe you are the better parent & you are prepared to take on more custody time that 50% - fight to the death. If you feel your children deserve better than what they are getting at their 'other' residence of care - argue, fight, negotiate until you are blue in the face. Do it until you know that their care is streamlined at the standard you expect for their development.

Because years later, no mother wants to hear the question: "why did you let me/us (me & my siblings) live in 'that' environment with dad when you felt/knew it wasn't good enough?"

You're children are watching. They feel everything you feel. They may be building skills to handle a lesser quality of nurture, while away from you. They absolutely love their dad, no matter what he puts in their lunch or what appointment he forgets or how dysregulated their sleep & emotions get when in his care. They might even just be used to the untidiness, or the messed up plans, or the weird, random circumstances that happen or poorly managed emotional responses.

No matter whose care they are in, you may have only 50% custody, but you are always 100% their guardian & it is your responsibility to make sure they are getting the standard of care that you know is best for them. Do everything in your power to make sure your child's 'continuity of care' meets your expectations - no matter where they are & no matter whose custody they are in.

The BC Family Law Court system is not designed for fairness & they have created a playing field that is completely inadequate to handle the complexity of broken family units. I desperately want to tell women to play dirty. But the truth is - you don't have to. If you take the time, learn the system & can get a half decent lawyer - you can gain the power to have more control over your child's standard of care in many different, creative ways.

In addition - you're brain, as a female is wired for cooperation & advocacy. One of our superpowers as women is to be able to see how actions & choices effect everyone else involved. Mix those things together. If you are able to approach conversations & negotiate with your children's father, you have a high potential to increase their quality of care without creating more separation. All boundaries & expectations need to come with consequences. Trust is a power dynamic. Find ways to keep the ball in your court - whatever that looks like for you. Your goal is always your child's best interest. We want them thriving - regardless of the environment.


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If you would like to start building your Core Resiliency Skills contact Coach Julia today. You will learn how to Thrive beyond your damage, become a Transitional Character, break abuse cycles in your family cycle & build the core resiliency skills most often missed when being raised in a low nurture environment.

Julia is a Holistic Health Consultant, holding a Double Diploma in Community Support & Addictions Work, is a Certified Transformation Specialist, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach & a Lvl 2 Reiki Practitioner. She specializes in Trauma Informed Practice & Resiliency Coaching and Holistic Pregnancy & Postpartum Health Coaching. 

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