London Free Press

Monday, May 3, 1999

Thatcher son welcomes changes to divorce laws


WINNIPEG --  Winnipeg divorce lawyer Regan Thatcher has not only litigated bitter custody battles -- he's lived them.

And he, like many others, believes changes to Canada's divorce laws are long overdue.

Thatcher -- son of former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Colin Thatcher, who was convicted of murdering his wife, JoAnn, in 1983 after a lengthy custody dispute over their three children -- prefers not to talk about his tragic past.

But Thatcher said he has handled many messy divorces in which the judge favoured the mother over the father for custody of the children. And he hopes proposed changes to Canada's Divorce Act will finally put couples on a level playing field.

It has been more than a decade since the Act was last amended.

In that time, the divorce rate has tripled to about 40 per cent and questions have been raised about whether the legal system treats divorced fathers fairly.

This month, Justice Minister Anne McLellan is expected to respond to 48 recommendations by a joint Senate-Commons committee on child custody and access on ways to improve the current system.

The report, titled For the Sake of the Children, was tabled in the House last December.

Proponents say one of the report's most important recommendations is to scrap the concept of custody and access in favour of shared parenting, which would give both parties equal rights with regard to their children.

"The divorce act we have now was drafted for the '50s and '60s," said Thatcher."The reality in the '90s is that we have two parents that work. We have two parents that do child care, unlike the way it used to be."

The courts are generally loathe to fine a custodial parent -- often a low-income earner -- for contempt of court or to impose a jail sentence that would hurt the children.

Sarnia-Lambton Liberal MP Roger Gallaway co-chaired the joint committee that travelled across Canada last year listening to nearly 600 presentations from individuals and groups. He heard many troubling stories.

"There's rampant unfairness out there," he said. "It has created this winner-take-all scenario in the courts."

While men often appear to get the short end of the straw in divorce cases, there are women in the same situation, he noted.

However, the Manitoba Association of Women and the Law believes the current act is doing the job.

Copyright © 1999 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.