Divorce Report a Recipe for Chaos [Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access Final Report]

Article excerpt

(Ottawa) And you thought divorce could be ugly.

The Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access' final report would turn Canada's Divorce Act into a tool for chaos for women and children in high conflict families, say women's legal experts.

Under the radical proposals contained in For the Sake of the Children, women reporting abuse could be jailed for making 'false allegations' and could be deemed unfriendly parents for not wanting to maximize contact with the other parent. Women who flee the family home "without suitable arrangements for contact between the child and the other parent" could be seen as acting contrary to the best interests of the child.

The Divorce Act would be amended to state that divorced parents and their children "are entitled to a close and continuous relationship with one another," a clause that could cement children who have been abused into regular contact with their abusers.

Not even the key recommendation of the National Women and the Law- that The Divorce Act must explicitly recognize that violence witnessed or experienced by children should be a factor in determining custody-made it into the report. NAWL sought recognition that in cases of wife or child abuse, including sexual abuse, no access by an offending parent could sometimes be in the child's best interests.

"The report reveals that the committee didn't understand what the reality is for separating Canadians," says Carole Curtis, a spokesperson for the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL).

"The recommendations will increase litigation and will add greatly to the instability in the lives of children upon separation and divorce. The committee process was one-sided and deeply flawed."

The report proposes eliminating the terms 'custody' and 'access' and replacing them with a form of mandatory joint custody called 'shared parenting.' The terms of shared parenting would be outlined in 'parenting plans' which parents would be required to present as the basis of 'parenting orders', a replacement for custody orders. Parenting plans would be developed after attending mediation or educational classes that would teach the benefits of shared parenting.

The linchpin of the report is Recommendation No. 16, a list of criteria that would be used determine 'the best interests of the child.' Preference would be given to parents who favour shared parenting; to those who are most willing to encourage a close and continuous relationship between the child and the other parent; to those most willing to attend mediation and educational sessions; to those best able to provide the necessities of life to the child; any notion that mothers are superior caregivers would be against the best interests of the child.

The report also calls for a comprehensive review of the Federal Child Support Guidelines to reflect the thrust of the committee's new concepts and language. It hints that non-custodial parents who have children in subsequent relationships might be able to opt out of the new support guidelines.

It was a fight launched by father's rights advocate Senator Anne Cools over the new Federal Child Support Guidelines in 1997 that led to the formation of the committee, which held hearings across Canada last spring. …