Wednesday, December 09, 1998MPs call for shared custody
Reform wants tougher stand on abuse allegations
Robert Fife, Chris Cobb
National Post ; Southam News
A parliamentary committee recommends courts no longer grant sole custody to one parent. But the Reform party says the MPs' report on the Divorce Act fails to take a tough stance against false accusations of child abuse arising during divorce battles or to provide greater access for grandparents to children of divorced parents.
The Liberal-dominated committee reports to Parliament today after three months of emotional, often controversial, hearings across the country.
The report, For the Sake of the Children, advocates changes that would see both parents treated equally under law. The words "custody" and "access" would be wiped from the books, to be replaced by "shared parenting." Parents would be expected to devise a "sharing plan" that would guarantee both partners remain involved in the child's life. Failure would lead to a court-imposed plan, after mediation.
Liberal MPs on the committee had endorsed the idea of new criminal sanctions against parents who falsely accuse former spouses of child abuse, but they have now backed off that pledge. Reformers will issue a dissenting report.
Paul Forseth, a Reform MP and former family justice counsellor in Vancouver, said Liberal MPs rejected the idea that Crown attorneys should lay perjury charges against parents who falsely accuse former spouses of sexual or violent abuse of the children.
"I was very disappointed at Liberal intransigence especially around the issue of false allegations," Mr. Forseth said.
The Liberals were also unwilling to propose that provincial law societies direct lawyers to warn clients that they could face perjury charges if they make up stories of child sexual abuse to punish their former spouses, he said.
Mr. Forseth said the Liberal majority was reluctant to punish parents who disobey court orders allowing non-custodial parents access to the children. There is a double standard at play since the government recently passed laws to punish so-called "deadbeat dads" for failing to pay child support, he said.
Although the Liberals did recommend that grandparents and other extended family be allowed access to children under the concept "best interest of the child," Mr. Forseth said there were no concrete recommendations to enforce the principle.
"We fought for that issue but the Liberals said 'No, no, no,' so grandparents are still left out in the cold," he said. Grandparents will still have to hire a lawyer and become a third party at divorce hearings in applying for access to a child, said Mr. Forseth.
The committee is expected to recommend increased funding for mediation in custody cases and counselling for parents who can't agree what to do with the children after the divorce.
Among the 40-plus proposals in the report are:
- Elimination of the so-called "tender years doctrine," which, in disputed cases, has usually meant mothers get sole custody of younger children.
- Judges be bound to grant shared parenting rights unless there is "clear evidence" of abuse of one parent by another -- or of children by one parent.
- Elimination of supervised visitation unless there is clear evidence of violence.
- Mandatory 90-day notice if one parent wishes to move a significant distance from the other parent.
- If one parent moves, an adjustment in support payments -- if necessary -- to allow the other parent to travel to visit the children or have children visit.
- Ending the right of one parent to deny the other parent access to their child's school or medical records.
- Giving extended family members, especially grandparents, the right to ask a court for access to children.
- Divorcing parents be encouraged to attend at least one mediation session to develop a shared parenting plan for their children. The sessions should be structured to screen for family violence.
The recommendations will go to Justice Minister Anne McLellan.
Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access
Contains minutes of all meetings.
Status of Women Canada
Federal government agency mandated to promote gender equality.
The Children's Voice
Advocates the dismantling of the adversarial system in Canadian family law.
Fathers Are Capable Too advocacy page.
Children's Aid Society
Selected Statistics on Canadian Families and Family Law
November 1997 study compiled by the Department of Justice.
Joel Miller's Family Law Centre
A large Canadian-based site with comprehensive links to family law guidelines and legislation.
Copyright © Southam Inc. All right reserved.