Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned – William Congreve, 1695.

The hostilities that erupt during divorce are some of the most primal pathogens of hatred, anger, and conniving that can occur. Of course it can turn violent…because humans are ruled by their passions not their intellects…The result of such primitive behaviour often makes its way into the courtroom to be sorted out.

It’s important to get the following definition into short-term memory first. The American Academy of Physicians notes that, “Family violence can be defined as the intentional intimidation or abuse of children, adults, or elders by a family member, intimate partner or caretaker to gain power and control over the victim.” It includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, threats, intimidation, and economic abuse.

One mother of two children was certainly spoiling for a fight. She set upon a course of antagonism with such zealous hatred of her former spouse that she was more than willing to sacrifice her own best interests in her campaign of family violence. The children, whom she had custody of – were just collateral damage. She had threatened the father with words, then deeds, with the intent to cause financial harm. “The essence of

[her threat/promise] was that ‘he did not realize what she was capable of doing to him and that she would make his life a misery’ – [or] words to that effect.” To make a multi-year story short, the judge wrote, “I find the Claimant’s litigation conduct, related both to the selling of the commercial property and to parenting arrangements, considered in their totality, is a form of emotional abuse and harassment that constitute a form of family violence.” Wow, finally. Thank you.

The fact that the judge acknowledged the destabilizing effects of the mother’s conduct is a first step in legal recognition of the existence of that kind of Machiavellian ‘political’ behaviour as a crime – sort of. Because crime entails punishment. That type of family violence is not a crime like a slap or a punch is. The police never take any action against ‘political’ aggression, because it is not an arrestable crime, it’s not an offence with a sentence fixed by law. It is a civil issue, not a criminal one. And as a result victimization can go on for years and with great costs, both financially and psychologically to the victim(s). Slanderous aggression, (suddenly the ex becomes an abuser, pedophile or whatever – to anyone that will listen), or changing locks, or running up legal bills with the intention of having a lien placed on joint property to block its sale – that kind of violence has to be pursued in court. As much instant satisfaction that may come from answering that type of aggression with a slap or a poke, although deserved – is best avoided.

The mother had engaged in willful and financially damaging delays in the dissolution of family property. “The [mother] knew or ought to have known the impact her conduct was having on the [fathers] financial situation;” according to the judge.  “The [father] made it clear to her. From this, I infer the [mother] is prepared to let her anger at the [father] influence her to act in a way that indirectly harms the best interests of the children.” She was also found guilty of contempt of court, but as of today, she has not been given a decision on the appropriate penalty for her ‘civil’ offence.

The judge wrote that, “In summary, I find that the [mother] has directed violence at the [father] that has indirectly harmed the children’s psychological and emotional well-being and economic security.” That judicial observation seems elementary, oh-so-logical, and a reasonable assumption – why destroy the thing that feeds you or your offspring? Yet, we get passion over intellect…

The ruling found that the violence from the mother cost the family $250,000 and resulted in an equity loss of $79,000. She ruthlessly and selfishly prioritized her time for the destruction of the father of her children. According to the judge, “Throughout the litigation, the self-represented [father] conducted himself in an exemplary way.” And evidence did “consistently affirm the [father] is an exemplary role model for children, a person who understands their needs and knows how to affirm and engage them in a positive way.”

So what was this dad’s reward? For the loss of his half of $250,000, and an eventual joint equity loss of $79,000 – the exemplary father, and family violence victim, was awarded $37,000 in damages, and custody of his 12-year-old son – his daughter stays with the perpetrator.

The mother had created parental alienation situation, and caused the other parent to suffer stress-induced medical issues. “Such conduct may cause the other parent economic harm, depleting resources that would have been available to the child to facilitate time with their parent. That has occurred in this case,” wrote the judge.

Even though the crime was methodically repeated over two plus years, and the financial loss was in the six figure bracket, not to mention the psychological damage to the children, or the medical treatment that resulted from being a victim of the attacks, it hardly seems like a ‘victory’ for justice. Yet that is precisely what it is – a victory. Because for the first time in British Columbia law there is a much better understanding of an often dismissed form of family violence. It is arguably close to the psychological equivalent of murder/suicide as to be frightening, except that we are so accustomed, in our aloof detachment to the fate of others that such aggression resumes its regular course; But at least it does so from its waypoint of legal precedent. It also represents hope that for victims and perhaps a warning to the perpetrators that it will not be tolerated anymore.