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Children benefit from finality in parenting arrangements

A child's need for certainty should guide the parties in a custody dispute, Toronto family lawyer Erin Chaiton-Murray tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Chaiton-Murray, partner with Fogelman Law, says the nature of family law means delays are inevitable as parents come to a permanent arrangement for the custody and access of their children. Whatever the reason for conflict or a dragged out process, the result is the same, she says.

“It causes issues for the kids,” Chaiton-Murray explains. “Children are very sensitive to conflict and uncertainty. Depending on their age, they really pick up on unresolved matters.”

That’s a message she tries to drive home to clients in any situation involving a dispute over parenting.   

“In custody and access disputes, the focus is on what’s best for the child, and that should also be the guiding principle for the parents in trying to avoid delays as much as possible,” says Chaiton-Murray, who also reminds parents that no arrangement is irreversible.

“Changes can always be made, and the agreement revisited if the children’s needs change or there are other changes in circumstances,” she says. “It’s much better for the children to know that things are resolved, and a plan is in place, as opposed to them knowing directly or sensing indirectly that the adults are still fighting, and everything is still up in the air.”

Chaiton-Murray says there are three primary sources of delay in child custody:

Institutional delay

“There are ongoing challenges in terms of timing to resolve matters before the court, given the volume of cases that they have to deal with and their limited ability to handle things quickly and efficiently,” Chaiton-Murray says. “It varies from court to court, and some are better than others, but you can expect to wait a period of time to get a court date so that things can move along.”

Emotional paralysis

The shock of a separation can be debilitating for some parents, according to Chaiton-Murray.

“Often, they are not ready to deal with the reality of the situation, so when it comes time to sort out issues, the parents may not be emotionally prepared to move forward,” she says.

Strategic delay

Chaiton-Murray says the temporary status quo arrangements may suit one party more than the other. In those situations, she says it’s natural to take advantage, whether consciously or not.

“It can be tricky because we act for parties on both sides of cases like this,” Chaiton-Murray says. “If you’re in a temporary arrangement that is working to your benefit, you’re not going to want to talk about changes.”

But even in a situation where her client is in a favourable temporary arrangement, Chaiton-Murray emphasizes the all-round benefits of a more settled resolution.

“It’s not good for the children to be in an unresolved situation — they benefit from the security of a final parenting arrangement,” she says.

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