Edmonton Sun

Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Men's Divorce Centre unlikely to succeed

By MINDELLE JACOBS
Edmonton Sun

Calling all men who've won child custody in court battles with your ex-wives. The Men's Divorce Centre, an organization which sells information packages to divorcing men, wants to hear from you.

The Toronto-based group has launched a national study of custodial fathers and their experiences with the court system.

"We all know of mothers who have won custody of their children where the father was not a bad father," says centre spokesman Greg Kershaw.

"We are looking for a situation where both the mother and father are decent people but the court awarded sole final custody to the father."

You've probably seen the organization's ad, which runs regularly in The Sun under the headline "Men's Divorce Secrets Revealed."

Men are invited to call a toll-free number to hone their divorce strategies.

Canadians seem to be under the impression that the courts treat mothers and fathers equally, Kershaw says.

The Men's Divorce Centre questions that perception and wants to get a clearer picture of how the system works and whether fathers have a 50-50 shot at getting custody if both parents are equally capable.

The requirements for the study are strict. Custodial dads are not eligible to participate if, for example, their ex-wives are in jail, are mentally ill, have a criminal record or a problem with drugs or booze.

They're looking for "normal" people and have received about 25 applications so far.

"It's my belief that if they're equally decent parents, dad usually doesn't have a chance," says Kershaw.

"We're trying to disseminate the truth so these people who have wild and crazy expectations (of winning custody) won't pursue things if it isn't likely to happen."

The group hopes to publish the survey results by Christmas and plans to forward them to federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

How the "truth" will emerge from an unscientific study of a small group of men who will be asked to complete written questionnaires and participate in phone interviews, is a mystery though.

Kershaw's comments suggest there's some kind of systematic anti-male plot among lawyers, judges and lawmakers to cheat men out of their custody rights.

Think about it. Our politicians, lawyers and judges are predominantly male. They're all out to get other men?

U of A family law professor Leonard Pollock finds the notion ridiculous.

"The system hasn't screwed (men). Individual circumstances have screwed them," he says.

"These guys want to blame it on the law."

In contested custody cases in Alberta where moms and dads are equally competent, 50% to 60% of the rulings are in favour of the men, he says.

And in the vast majority of uncontested cases, the parents agree that mom gets the kids, Pollock says.

What's so surprising about that? Many moms switch from full- to part-time work once they have children. So who better to raise the kids - a dad working long hours or a mom who's already scaled back her job to be a mom?

Add to the mix the fact that many divorced fathers prefer not to have custody of very young children and a different picture emerges.

One of practicality, not anti-male bias.

The issue is far more complex than that.

The Men's Divorce Centre hopes to use the court documents supplied by its survey participants to help other fathers in their custody cases, and that's fine.

But that's about all the study will be good for.

Even men's rights advocate Ferrel Christensen is skeptical the project will be worthwhile.

An in-depth look at custody rulings would require an expensive analysis of a random sample of at least 1,000 cases, says Christensen, of the Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality.

One wonders whether it's worth it.



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