Family lawyer Jack A. King interview transcript
Jack King’s interview on The Great Canadian Talk Show (92.9 KICK FM) April 16, 2009 with host Marty Gold
Marty – I am joined right now on the line by Jack King who I am told is a listener of this program, and is a family lawyer of 20 years experience in the city of Winnipeg . Hello, Mr. King
Jack – Good afternoon to you.
Marty – It’s a pleasure having you on the program. I don’t often touch on matters relating to family law, etc., but I have been advised that there’s some issues that are of a concern specifically as it relates to the matter of parental alienation and so I wanted to bring you on this program and, subsequent to bringing you greetings and welcoming you, to ask you what trends you’ve noticed in terms of how things have changed in family law and in divorce and custody issues over the course of the last 20 years. Increasingly governments have tried to modify laws, have tried to strengthen protection for the most part mothers and children in terms of maintenance payments enforcement and such. And in spite of that there’s still heightened emotions around issues, certainly around issues of custody, how have things gotten better in the last 20 years and how have things gotten worse in the last 20 years in your estimation?
Jack – Well, I think one things that’s got better over the years is there’s an increasing recognition that fathers actually can be good and involved parents. 20 years ago parents would generally be treated as only mothers. Fathers took a backseat and became visitors in their children’s lives. Now there is a recognition that both parents can be pretty useful. So that’s a major change. Another major change, I think, is the move towards a 50-50 shared care and control.
Marty – Uh-huh, as opposed to the sole custody being under the ages of one parent.
Jack – Yes. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know. It’s at the moment an untested experiment. 15 years from now we’re going to have a whole lot of kids who’ve gone through that process of 50-50 but living in completely separate homes and sometimes other sides of the city. How are they gone to turn up? I have no idea.
Marty – Can you explain parental alienation to my audience and why this has become a hot topic among family lawyers?
Jack – I don’t know if it’s a hot topic; it’s a sexy topic in that it gets the news and so on. But what it is essentially is one parent turning the children or child away from the other parent, saying things to the children which lead the child to believe that he or she is in danger with the other parent, shouldn’t be seeing the other parent, doesn’t want to see the other parent, and so on. It’s a horribly complex subject, very difficult to make better.
Marty – And how does the court evaluate, you know, the court’s faced with a situation where you’ve got a kid who’s, and I’m just going to throw a number in the air, let’s say you’ve got an 8 year old. How does the court compel an 8 year old to go visit a parent that the child is lead to believe they aren’t safe with or don’t want to see?
Jack – Well, you can compel an 8 year old because an 8 year old can be physically made to go. It’s more difficult when you get to the 11, and 12, and 13 year olds. But it’s the damage that occurs to the child who might sincerely believe that father or mother is some evil alien and then being forced to go and see that parent. There are safe houses, as it were, there’s the Winnipeg Access Agency –
Marty – Yes.
Jack – where children are sometimes taken to see the parent. But ultimately if a particular parent is intent upon destroying the relationship with the other parent, they can do it.
Marty – Do the courts ever issue cautions with regards to parents that try to poison the waters like that?
Jack – Oh yes, they do, most certainly. And there have been occasions where courts have said this is a contempt of the Court Order and unless you smarten up and start doing things properly, you’re going to go to prison. That does actually have an effect.
Marty – Does it ever happen that anybody is incarcerated as a result of that kind of behaviour?
Jack – Yes, there have been some cases, not in Manitoba that I am aware of, but certainly elsewhere where people have been incarcerated. Here in Manitoba people have been given suspended sentences. Those sentences have not been invoked because the person has smartened up.
Marty – What about when you’re representing one parent and your "learned friend" is representing another and one of you takes note that you’ve got a client who’s creating that kind of poisoned environment. How is that dealt with between the lawyers where on the one hand you’re supposed to look out for the best interest of the – I’m just wondering if you could clarify, you’re supposed to look out for the best interest of client – what obligation or responsibility do both lawyers have towards looking out for the best interests of the children?
Jack – Well, it’s an enormous one, in my view. This may be an unpopular view with my colleagues at the Bar, but I maintain that most parent alienation cases are fuelled and basically created by the lawyer not doing his or her job properly.
Marty – How so?
Jack – Because they’re not telling their client what real life is about. If a person wants to alienate the children from the parent, the first thing that parent, the alienating parent, should be told is you’re creating a monster that’s going to have a huge effect upon your life. But the lecture has to be given to the person that this is very bad for your child and ultimately very bad for you because you’re going to end up with a kid who is going to be delinquent, or who is going to have psychological difficulties.
Marty – I don’t often hear it expressed in terms of the effects on the kids that it creates, you know, like delinquent behaviour and antisocial acting out and stuff. And that really resonated with me, for reasons I don’t want to elaborate about on the air, but I think I may have seen evidence of what you’ve just described, but I don’t hear it discussed very often by lawyers or newspaper columnists or, you know, in the general public.
Jack – Well, it should be. You know, you talk about acting for the client, well, when I say to my client, “Listen, you better be aware of these long term consequences that you might be bringing down in your little head”, I’m actually acting in my client’s best interests because my client does not wish, if that person is sensible at all, in 15 years’ time to have a delinquent child on his or her hands.
Marty – Has the legislative changes I’m remembering now I guess it was, actually when I first went on the air with Great Canadian Talk Show on July 1, 2004, and I think that was the date that lead to the legislative that was proclaimed in the province of Manitoba, that among other things changed the definition of common-law and some of the other matters pertaining to people that live together without benefit of official church or civilian sanction. Has there been any effect, pro or con, with regard to the issues of parental alienation – has that legislation ended up affecting making things better or worse in the course of those kinds of relationships splitting up where there are kids involved?
Jack – Not really, I don’t think, other than there being no distinction held now between a child born in wedlock and out of wedlock, you know to use those old terms.
Marty – Oh yeah.
Jack – So children of common-law relationship, married relationship basically are treated the same or the parents are treated the same. It’s more a newmint than a real effect.
Marty – Mmhmm. How combative, you know, it’s certainly been dramatized – I think a lot of people, maybe not of this generation but of my own generation, sort of defined their viewpoint on what went on in Divorce Court or, you know, custody battles on the basis of One Potato, Two Potato or after that Kramer vs. Kramer – how often are cases put before a judge that have that degree of antagonism and vitriol?
Jack – Well, I recollect the film was a bit ridiculous, it went to extremes. But there is some pretty hard, hard cases out there where people just cannot be reasonable. They cannot look at their ex-spouse with any recollection that they once loved that person. And they are out, if they can, to destroy that person and sometimes they use the children, that’s where you get parental alienation coming from in part.
Marty – How many cases, is there a percentage of cases you can estimate that are being maybe diverted or where the court process has been streamlined because of the use of mediation or other kinds outside of court services?
Jack – Yeah, we’ve always used mediation as lawyers and the court process, case conference, creates a mediation process as well. I’m not sure that there’s a huge difference. It’s just four different ways now of doing the same thing that we have two different ways of doing before.
Jack – Cases capable of resolution are going to be resolved through mediation; cases that can’t be, doesn’t matter which way you use it, are not going to resolve.
Marty – I take it that family law, especially when you start getting the rancorous kind of disputes between parties – is there a high burnout rate among lawyers that participate in your specialty?
Jack – Yeah, there is a fairly…there is a burnout rate, I don’t know if it’s a high one, but there are people who decide, you know, after 7 or 8 years and sometimes earlier than that that they just don’t want to deal with it and they don’t want to deal with –
Marty – It seems to me like it’s a kind of specialty that, you know, it might be hard not to take some of it home with you. Not you personally, but lawyers in general that, you know, you see families with these kinds of problems and anxieties and with the heightened level of antagonism and try to keep your client in line and keep them on points and everything. And so it just seems to me that it’s a lot more strenuous and can cause trouble, not trouble per se, but you know what I mean. It can be very difficult to be married to somebody who practices family law as opposed to somebody whose, you know, in and just closes real estate deals.
Jack – Yeah, but I think one has to remember that there are some real positives about doing family law. You get to meet some really interesting people, and you’re also, in a very real sense, helping people through a terribly tough time in their minds. You can’t help them all, but by and large that’s what we try to do.
Marty – Do you have any suggestions for our listeners who, and I don’t really think that I have a real soap opera audience, but if there are people out there either are currently going through custody issues or who maybe are concerned that their marriage or relationship might be headed for rocky shores – is there any advice or suggestions that you may have for them about how to try to make the path as smooth as possible and how maybe they can avert, you know, the kind of eruptions and heightened emotions?
Jack – Well, they should start off by remembering that there was a time when each thought of the other very highly. They should also recollect or consider that spending money unnecessarily on lawyers isn’t a good idea because what it does is take money away from the family. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they should say, if they have children, “The last thing we want to do is bring our children into this mess.” You know, divorce is really tough for kids and if there’s anything that parents can do to reduce the stress of a divorce upon the children, they should be doing it.
Marty – I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Jack King, but is there anything you think could be done in terms by way of legislative amendment that might make things less confrontational, less combative, etc – is there something that you think could be done by the provincial legislature to create an environment that’s more conducive to putting the children first?
Jack – I don’t think so. I think it’s almost more a matter of educating lawyers. And there are a whole lot of lawyers who feel the same way that I do but there are some who don’t. And if we can reduce the personal animosity, personal tensions at the outset, then the parties really end up benefiting later on. Once government starts to interfere, they often do so without any real background or knowledge -
Marty – Mmhmm.
Jack – and they impose block solutions on things that really need a personal solution, and an individual solution. So I’m not a great advocate of government interference unless we’re going to take all the children away and put them in a collective home or something.
Marty – Yeah, well I don’t think anybody would advocating that.
Jack – (laughing) I don’t think that’s an option.
Marty – Jack King, you’ve practiced law in this city for over 20 years.
Jack – Well, no, it’s longer than that; close to 30 now.
Marty – Close to 30. And you’ve specialized in family law for 20 years?
Jack – Pretty well 25, 26 years.
Marty – And along with Connie Petersen you have a very well respected law firm. I’m just wondering if in closing there’s any other remarks you might want to make with regards to what you see in relationship between the law, the practitioners of law in this city, and families that come to them for help or anything else with regards – because as you know, as you know listening to this show, I’m not always easy on all lawyers. I haven’t often ventured into the subject of family law for instance, but I’ve had my criticism of some kinds, some areas of practice and some tactics that have been used, a lot of it relates to government lawyers, granted. But I wanted to give you an opportunity to express yourself with regards to the role of lawyers in terms of family law and in terms of the Winnipeg , the society of Winnipeg in general.
Jack – Well, as lawyers we are obligated to be advocates, but we can be fair and reasonable advocates. I think lawyers and their clients in this field should take the long view. The client should be saying, “What do I want my life to look like in 15 or 20 years’ time?” and the lawyer should be saying, “What do I want my client’s life to look like in 15 or 20 years’ time?”
Marty – I can tell you this, Mr. King, that in the time of my own divorce, which was many, many, many moons ago, and by no means am I being critical of the lawyers that I was using or that my ex-spouse was using at the time, but that was not the approach that was taken in those days. And I kind of wish it was because, I don’t know if it would have necessarily changed how some things went, but nobody ever suggested, sat me down, or sat me and my ex down, and said, “Okay listen, you guys, you may not be getting along and whatever but what do you want things to be like in 15 or 20 years in your own lives?” At no time did anybody ever try to suggest to myself that the long view was something that had to contemplated and in that regard I am very impressed with the message that you’ve brought forward today and that you’ve expressed a point of view that I think is extremely sensible and that I do hope that people take to heart.
Jack – Well, thank you.
Marty – Mr. King, thanks very much. I know that you and others in your law office listen to this program and I very much appreciate the kind words that I have heard expressed through some of your personnel with regards to the content of this show, and anytime that there’s any subject that anyone around there thinks we should bring up on this show, don’t hesitate to get a hold of us.
Jack – Thank you very much. It was nice to talk to you.
Marty – Jack King joining us from the Petersen King law firm. Have a good day(terminates call) ... Didn’t know I could pull an interview like that off, did ya, Horse?
Adam Knight – You know what?
Marty – That was very different, eh?
Adam Knight – I’m very impressed in both regards there. Obviously with your interviewing acumen and Mr. King in his point of view on those topics.
Marty – That’s the kind of thing that I thought I was going to do, you know, like when I first started the show and then it ended up becoming a little more skewed towards political and current affairs and stuff.
Adam Knight – Hot topics are hot topics.
Marty – Yeah, exactly.
Adam Knight – I would like to take a moment to actually congratulate Mr. King on his, you know, level minded view on what is obviously a very sensitive and difficult topic for a lot of people.
Marty – I almost wonder, although lawyers would never say it, but, you know, when he said that there’s this trap of just spending money on lawyers and taking money away from the family it’s like, boy, there’s some lawyers that I’ve watched in action who I believe would view Mr. King’s comment as being a form of heresy.
Adam Knight – And, more to the point, unproductive to the firm.
Marty – (laugh) Well, yeah, and unproductive to the firm or whatever. But that was – and now an e-mail from a listener:
"Does one have to prove harm is being done to a child to obtain custody, or can a case be made on a child’s total well-being, a child that is not physically in danger, can still develop major problems as the child grows up directly related to absent and poor parenting?"
Well, I wish I had gotten this when Mr. King was on the air. I get the impression that, from what he was saying, that the courts are now more receptive to interpretations of the overall well-being of a child, or of children, you know, ‘cause a lot of these divorces you’re dealing with more than one kid. I’m glad to hear it, and I almost wonder if at some point in the future, if we do a follow up on this, if maybe it wouldn’t be an idea … I’m just wondering if maybe at some point in the future I should try to get somebody from the court’s side of things, or from the court administration side of things in terms of the Department of Justice, and maybe get their point of view about how they try to streamline things and, I mean, I don’t know if the term is correct but, you know, where you try to divert cases – case conferences, as opposed to actual hearings in front of a judge and stuff. And it could be that I’m going to pursue this, you know, not delve into it, I don’t think it’s a great investigative piece, but I think it’s worthwhile having that discussion and hearing the kind of information that we got from Mr. King. And maybe next time I have Jack King on the air I’ll be able to talk to him about cricket.
Adam Knight – Heeey!
Marty – I’m led to believe he’s one of the main proponents of the game of cricket -- about which I know nothing.