Globe and Mail

Divorced fathers angry over 3-year delay in custody-law reform

Monday, May 11, 1999
ANNE McILROY Parliamentary Bureau, Ottawa
The Globe and Mail

Justice Minister Anne McLellan was under pressure yesterday to move more quickly on changes to the Divorce Act intended to help children maintain meaningful relationships with both parents after a breakup.

Groups representing divorced fathers said her plan to take three years to rewrite the legislation is unacceptable.

Ms. McLellan has agreed to replace the terms "custody" and "access" with language that gives both parents responsibility for their children after they split apart. But she says she needs time to consult the provinces, and the time frame she laid out yesterday would not require legislative action before 2002.

"We do not need another report; we need legislative reform and we need it yesterday," said Danny Guspie of the National Shared Parenting Association. He said the changes may not happen until after the next election.

Even fellow Liberal MP Roger Gallaway said the minister would likely have to move more quickly. "Three years is a long time. There are a lot of people out there who are really hurting. I think she is trying to lower expectations in terms of time by saying it."

The controversial committee, co-chaired by Mr. Gallaway, heard testimony about how unfair the system now is to parents who don't win custody of their children after divorce, for the most part fathers. At times, it pitted groups representing divorced fathers against women's groups. Yesterday, they remained divided.

Carole Curtis, of the National Association of Women and the Law, said Ms. McLellan is doing the right thing in taking her time to consult the provinces and Canadians about the changes.

"She got it. The government got it. This is complicated. Let's not rush. Only 10 to 20 per cent of divorcing parents go to court to fight over their children, and it is estimated that 47,000 children a year are the subject of custody orders under the Divorce Act.

Ms. McLellan has agreed with a recommendation that concepts such as custody and access should be replaced by new ideas that focus on maintaining good relationships between children and both their parents -- and other family members -- after a divorce.

But she will neither endorse nor reject the committee's recommendation that the term "shared parenting" be used in the Divorce Act. Instead, she will pledge to talk to provincial and territorial governments to develop a proposal for legislative reform by 2002.

Ms. McLellan said yesterday that the work might not necessarily take three years.

But she said she was trying to avoid having the federal law being changed while provincial laws remain the same.

"We don't want to get into a situation where we pre-emptively and prematurely would amend the Divorce Act, thereby unwittingly creating a situation where we have one set of language in the Divorce Act and another set of language for those who separate pending divorce or those who were never married in the first place.

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