The traumatic child custody hearing

Updated: May 1

The horrendous justice system of the sixties


My parents separated when I was six.

My mother had full custody of me during the separation period, as that was pretty much the law back then, of course.

One day when I was seven or so, I was taken by my mother to the old provincial courthouse in Old Montreal, an imposing building that still stands today right across from the new court facilities on Notre-Dame street.

The courtrooms inside the Palais de Justice as it’s called here were cavernous and ornate, as only buildings of that early period were.

Upon arrival, I was led up to a large courtroom containing only myself, my mother, a judge, a stenographer a security guard and to my surprise, my father who was already there when we arrived.

I vaguely recall feeling very small, confused and more than a little intimidated, especially since no one had yet told me what I was doing there.

My mother escorted me to the witness box next to the judge, featuring a chair that appeared immense to my child’s eyes, with my feet dangling a foot off the ground once seated.

The judge, an old man with white hair and huge white eyebrows, stared down at me with no emotion that I can remember.

After a few seconds, the judge simply turned to me and bluntly asked me a single question.

Which one of my parents I wanted to live with, while both of them sat there twenty feet away, intently staring at me.

Confused and petrified by the question, I froze.

The judge asked me again.

I started crying, realizing that I actually had to choose something so incomprehensible to me at the time.

Finally, the judge asked me again for a third time in a softer voice.

Incapable of dealing with the nature of the request, I simply uttered “Six months with each” in the hope that I wouldn’t hurt the feelings of either one of them.

The judge seemed sufficiently satisfied with my simplistic answer and asked my mother to escort me out of the box.

He awarded my mother custody and my father would have me every second weekend, which was common back in those days, and might still be today.

I’d like to think that sort of horrendous procedure is no longer allowed in our court system.

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Excerpt from my upcoming e-book “Recollections from my time on earth” - Snackable short stories