A few weeks ago, as I was attending to my annual task of putting up/out the Halloween decorations and purchasing the candy for trick-or-treaters, I started thinking about my upcoming blog. Property topics, support topics, costs topics – all of them are just too scary to think about it at the best of times. So, I decided to write a blog with a little less focus on substantive law topics and to make it a little more fun.
I must confess that Halloween is my favourite holiday. I have loved it ever since I was a kid. I tried my best to instill all of the fun of being a little scared each October 31st into my own children, and they now share my enthusiasm with the “spirit” of the season (pun intended). Rather than be afraid of something, I have always thought it best to confront ones fears and deal with it directly. I embrace the holiday for what is represents – a time to celebrate and a time to reflect. This made me realize there is a clear connection between Halloween and family law.
As such, this blog will be about some of the ghoulish creatures that are talked about at Halloween, and are the perennial subjects of countless books, TV shows and movies – ghosts, vampires and witches. What do these creatures – mythical or otherwise – have to do with family law? You will be surprised to learn that there are a lot of similarities! But beware, for much like scary movies, what is once seen cannot be unseen, and what is once read cannot be unread. You may not have wanted to know about such connections, but you were curious, and we all know what sometimes happens to the curious … (oooooooh, scary stuff!)
Aside from the pumpkin, the most associated symbol with Halloween is the ghost. Let’s face it, ghosts are scary. We usually don’t know who they are, where they come from, or what they want from us. Their mere presence frightens us, and those who confront them (such as teenagers involved in adolescent hi-jinks, or the bereaved trying to connect with the spirits of loved ones at seances) are warned of doom and gloom. For the rest of us, who doesn’t like a good spooky story about something bad that happened to someone, whether that person was deserving of the scare. and how the person in the story handled the situation, or, more often than not, how they did not handle it. Now do you see the connection with family law?
With many people who involved in family law matters, they are often inundated with horror stories of separations and divorces gone wrong, of people who were drawn into such a case without having done anything wrong, other than falling in love (or out of love) with the wrong person. But sometimes, the person in the family law story is the wrongdoer, and they are doomed to face their fears – an end of a relationship, disconnection with their family and friends, an obligation to pay child and spousal support for a long time, and a serious reduction in their asset value.
All of these are scary consequences, and they often made scarier but the repeating of the story, over and over again, by “the others.” Usually, as these stories is told from one person to another, facts gets changed, and rarely for the better. This usually results in a worse outcome for the hero (or anti-hero) of the story. The internet is replete with personal stories of people to tell of their own tales of terror in and out of family court. And people are often told the tale of their brother’s friends’ cousin, – you know, the one who worked with someone years ago, who went through the exact same thing that you are now going – and lost everything!
So, can you do anything to fight these ghosts? Much like I used to tell my own daughters when they were young, and I would tell them spooky stories around the campfire, the best defense is being prepared, being aware of the facts, and being vigilant. This applies to the “ghosts” that may haunt you in family law. If you are going through a separation, be prepared that there will be some people who want to scare you with the most horrific stories out there. Sometimes you will not know why they are telling you these tales. Maybe it’s to help you. Often, it’s just to share the scare – misery does love company. Be aware of the facts. Know the case you are facing. Speak to those sooth-sayers who can help you on your journey. We’re called lawyers -and we know are way around the afterworld of separation and divorce. And finally, be vigilant. Understand that what you are going through is real, and that it will be scary. But it does not have to be so frightening that it cripples you into living a life of fear and misery. Being forewarned is being forearmed. And one final thing, it doesn’t hurt to check under the bed, or in the closet, for things that haunt you. You will need to move on from this scary time, and you don’t need any souvenirs or unpleasant reminders.
A close runner-up in the pantheon of fiendish Halloween creatures is the witch. When I was little boy, I asked my dear Italian grandmother (a frail old woman, who spoke little to no English, and who wore black all the time) whether she was witch. She laughed and assured me that she was not a witch. But she did tell me that she – and many of the people from her village – believed in witches. She convinced me that that witches do exist, and that they will not always come in the form of a scary old lady, all dressed in black, riding a broomstick. She taught me to be prepared and to know what to do if/when I ever met a witch. And I will share those same lessons with you.
My grandmother told me that a witch will come to you usually at moments of weakness in self-confidence or in your faith. They will want to trick you into believing something is true, when it is not, or they will offer you false hope, in exchange for something of value to you. In my grandmother’s time, and in many tales of witches told throughout the years, witches came looking for your trust, your faith or your soul. And if you were unfortunate enough to be tricked by a witch, it was difficult for you to retrieve whatever they took from you, or to break the spell they put on you.
The way to defend yourself, according to my little Nonna (“grandmother” in Italian), is much the same as one would handle a ghost – after all, they are kindred evil spirits. First, you must accept that witches exist and that they mean to cause you harm. Next, she taught me to recognize the signs of a witch. Are they overly interested in your life? Are they offering you too much advice, with little objective evidence to support their position? Are they trying to tell you that what you are seeing/feeling is not real, or that you should be seeing/feeling something that is not there? Do they make promises that if you do this, that or the other thing, you will be okay, only to follow their advice, and it leads to misery? Finally she taught me the way to destroy the witch, or her curse, is through seeking the help of others – in her case, it’s family and close friends, and of course, sincere prayers, faith and trust in God.
As I set out my grandmother’s code of defence, I could not help think of the comparison to many family law clients and their cases. I tell my clients that they must accept that there are people out there who wish to trick them, or to give them false hope. Some do it with the best of intentions, and as we all know, this only leads to hell. Others do it with a malicious intent. Some people, whether we like it or not, or not very nice people and they border on being evil. But it is not “evil” as we think of from Halloween stories; rather, it is “evil” in the sense of having negative intentions. Some people prey on the innocent or the vulnerable, and they fill their heads with confusing ideas of how to misinterpret a situation, or how to mismanage a situation. They love the mayhem that usually results from this, but fawn surprise. Doesn’t this sound like the definition of “gaslighting,” and we all know that there are some people who like to play mind games with others, for their own nefarious reasons. Just because you don’t want to believe a friend, an acquaintance, or an ex, is misleading you doesn’t mean they aren’t gaslighting you.
Finally, the best way to conquer the witch is to follow her advice. No, I am not telling you to seek help from God and pray. As a devout Catholic, those methods worked well for my grandmother and those who believe in a higher power to defeat evil. Applying this same philosophy to a secular problem, you need to get some advice/help. For the emotional devastation that separation and divorce may cause you, please avail yourself of counselling and therapy as offered by trusted professionals in those fields. For legal problems in family law matters, I once again recommend that you get, trust, and follow the advice of a respected and experienced lawyer. We can guide you through what you are going through in or out of the court system. And even if mistakes are made and bad bargains entered are into, it may not be too late to undo what has been done. We don’t have potions and lotions, but we do have motions, and we can conjure them (we call it filing them) to seek remedies from higher powers (we call them “judges”).
Last, but certainly not least, comes my personal favourite amongst the stories of the undead – the vampire. I watched the original Dracula (with Bela Lugosi) when I was seven years old, and it was on TV late one Saturday night on TVO’s “Saturday Night at the Movies.” I was so spooked out I had to sleep with the lights on, but at the same time, I was enthralled by the story of the vampire (going to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania is on my “bucket list”). Over the years, stories in books, television and movies involving vampires always captivated and interested me (until the tales of Twilight – with Edward, Bella, Jacob, and the other faux-teenagers – massacred the genre. Ugh, don’t get me started).
But as I got older, the stories of the vampire became more sinister, more gory and somewhat credible. This really scared me, but from a different perspective. I wasn’t afraid to see someone dressed in a black cape trying to bite me neck. When I go to a motions court or I am in a trial, the lawyers and judges are all dressed in such gowns, and there’s at least one person there who wants me dead (though not literally, I hope). As an adult, I have come to accept that vampires do exist, but once again, not as they have been portrayed in the media. The modern vampire still comes to steal from you so that they may thrive. But it’s not literal blood that they take from you. Rather the modern vampire, in a a family law context, sucks your spirit of happiness from you. They take away your joy, your happiness, your faith in humanity, and your trust in others. Some vampires do what they do to hurt you, to see you weak, and at be at the mercy of others. Some do so to see you completely ruined, and drive you to madness, and in some cases, to your own death.
And yes, there are some vampires who take your money, as well as your assets, your cherished belongings, and your sentimental attachments, and do so without any true basis for same. I am not talking about your ex-spouse, who has a claim in law for support or for a division of property. That is a simple matter of “what’s fair is fair” in law. You do not have to lie, but do not equate that with true harm a vampire does to you. Rather, I am talking about those around you, and/or your ex, who take, and give nothing to you. In this group, I include, without limiting the addition of others that may belong in this group:
The lawyer – the one who does absolutely nothing for you but is only interested in padding their billings (you know the one, they ask for thousands upon thousands of dollars, does nothing to advance your case, and then leaves once your money has dried up. But heed the warning – this is not to be confused with “the great defender” – the lawyer whom you pay, who tries as hard as they can to get you what you want, but is not successful because the facts, the law, or both, were not in your favour. These lawyers are the great soldiers of law, who valiantly fights the legal battle, but is ultimately vanquished
The supposed friend or family member – the one who wants to know all the sordid details of the break-up, but does not offer any hope or support for you to get better or to move on from the hurt/pain of the break-up
The other supposed friend or family member – the one that tells you lies about yourself, about the other side, or even about your children, to poison relationships forever, or to just to make them worse than they currently are. They suck the truth out of the reality, and only do so to thrive on the misery that such falsehoods breed
The family law “litigation machine” – the one that thrives on people consistently filing of forms, paying fees, and going to court, to needlessly fight a battle that could have been settled out of court. These are the voyeuristic vampires who just thrive on the raw carnage and want to see which one of you (or sometimes both) winds up having all of your resources (their financial, emotional and mental resources) sucked from you, and being left for dead
The internet – the hardest vampire to see, but the most pervasive. They’re the strongest ones, and sometimes the hardest to fight. Much like the ghosts and the witches I mentioned earlier, this vampire seeks to destroy hope, to permanently break relationships, to deplete bank accounts, and to otherwise leave their family law victim without any will to live. How do they do this? It misleads people, it likes to report half-truths and mistruths, it tells them what they want to hear, asking for money for quick solutions, only to go down a rabbit hole of despair and confusion. It’s false information and literature on what is clear law, it’s labelling people as perennial victims instead of survivors – they thrive on the needs of the injured and have no time for a person who wants to survive and thrive. This vampire is open 24-7, and 365 day/year. And it is a terrible slippery slope that leads the misguided down a path of dissolution and destruction, all under the false hope of taking from the fake “tree of knowledge.”
Once again, as I have said throughout this blog, the best way to deal with the undead is to first accept their presence as real, and then learn to tackle their weaknesses. Unlike the folklore of garlic, crucifixes, and holy water, the enemy of the family law vampire is knowledge of the law, the forgiveness of oneself and of others, and the courage to get past the pain of separation/ divorce. Many vampires will try to keep you in their grasp, to keep you perpetually uninformed, always emotionally hurt and forever financially dependent on their unhelpful remedies, if not insurmountably ruined. Belief in false hope can often literally kill some people who see no chance of getting out from under the layers of doubt and deceit. Sadly, the same story is often told when it is too late to do anything about it. We hear about the spouse, partner or parent who decides to end their own life, or the lives of the innocent, because they chose to believe the lies of the vampire. Shedding truth, real hope and true justice on an evil situation are the only ways to avoid becoming a victim to these bloodsuckers.
I know that this blog was a bit heavier to read than others I have written. Halloween is for kids, but some of the scary stories that lie beneath the tales of October 31st are real, and they are easy seen as real in modern family law disputes. Each of us likely knows of at least one “horror” story in family law, the one that went so wrong when all the red flags were there to see. We all yell at the screen when we see the soon-to-be-doomed teenager: “don’t answer the door, don’t answer the phone, don’t go to the basement.” Hindsight, as we know, is 20/20, and so it is important for everyone to see the true signs of all the ghouls, goblins and demons that lurk in and around the family law conflict. Shining light on a situation, as much as it may be unpleasant to do, often is the easiest and best cure. The same goes for family law cases. Be aware, be informed, and then be prepared. If nothing else, a light “night lit” on a situation may keep the evil spirits at bay. And it may just help you sleep a little better at night.
Remember, every case is unique, just like you are. If you are facing real legal problems, you need the right legal solutions. Please contact Runco Law at 289-799-3080 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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