Saturday, December 12, 1998Divorce reform on hold
Editorial, National Post
As a cathartic document, the Child Custody and Access Committee's report serves an important role. In the Name of the Children, released Tuesday, has given voice and validation to the pain felt by fathers who have lost access to their children, and made it clear those children are hurt when deprived of a caring parent. But as a catalyst for urgently needed reform in family court and, particularly, the treatment of fathers in divorce, it falls short of expectations.
The report's strongest feature is its unvarnished recitation of inequity within the divorce arena. Loving fathers, for example, are tarred by false allegations of sexual abuse and denied access to their children; unscrupulous lawyers counsel female clients to provoke their husbands into hitting them so they can win custody of the children. And yet the report's recommendations lack the strength necessary to remedy these problems.
Rather than merely asking Ottawa to think about how it treats false allegations of sexual abuse, the report should have called for severe legal sanctions against criminal activity.
Custodial parents who deliberately deny child access to the other parent are in contempt of court. They must be dealt with sternly (as was pointed out in the Reform Party's dissenting opinion), but they were practically ignored in this report.
Even the centrepiece recommendation, that shared parenting should be the new standard for raising divorced children, lacks the impact that could have been achieved had the committee recommended joint custody -- a much stronger version of shared parenting -- as a starting point for all divorce cases.
We can expect these soft recommendations to be further weakened by the federal government, if and when it acts on the report. This cannot be considered the final word on divorce reform. Rather the report is a landmark catalogue of injustices still awaiting solutions.
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