National Post

Thursday, December 17, 1998

Divorce report does a number on marriage

John Collison
National Post

The men's rights movement in Canada scored its first major victory last week. The release of the Senate committee report on custody, For the Sake of the Children, while a triumph of liberalism, will be anything but for children. In fact, the report's recommendations -- if added to the justice minister's list of things to do -- would forsake children once again to the tender mercies of the Me Generation. It would also loose upon society more of the same perfectly logical, liberal progressive impulses that inflate divorce statistics in the first place.

By further shifting the focus of family law from divorce prevention to a more equitable and amicable aftermath, a fundamental has been forgotten: The traditional family is the best vehicle yet devised for the care and control of children. What with decades of feminist excess -- real and imagined -- in the family courts now seemingly behind us, we might forgive divorced fathers their euphoria over the report. Future generations of Canadian children are less likely to.

Most problematic of the report's 48 well-meaning proposals include erasing the words "custody" and "access," trashing the "tender years doctrine," and creating mandatory parent education, mediation, and counselling programs. All add up to an invitation to dissolve the family -- to the obvious detriment of children.

In the first instance the roles of "mother" and "father" are effectively eradicated and replaced with the New Age sensitive "shared parenting." Enter the concept of the "parental unit." Coupled with the abandonment of the traditional belief that young children are better off with their mothers, women will lose what is an entirely justifiable advantage in divorce proceedings.

Because a bad marriage is almost always better than family break-up, liberalization of family law may be one of the few times more freedom is undesirable. Paleo-cons and feminists are probably right about one thing: Nature assigned women a greater burden in the baby-making department. This is no newsflash. Gestation and lactation are the exclusive domain of women, the devotion to which usually costs at least of couple of years of career. Consequently, mothers ought to enjoy greater security and claim in law to the children and finances of marriage.

We ought also to stop kidding ourselves about men. Whether it be biology or the legacy of Bob Guccione, when it comes to a troubled marriage, the male is more ready, willing, and able to bail. Too many wannabe wayward males will admit that were it not for the threat of bankrupting legal bills (battling the pro-female bias of the courts) and the heart-breaking loss of relationship with their offspring, they would leave. Freed from these pitfalls, divorce would be made easier for men, and more will choose to free themselves from family responsibility (one of society's great civilizers) more often.

Add to this an army of enabling, state-funded court and social workers to morally massage and make comfy an increasingly trivial process. More men -- and women -- will be lulled into believing, at least for a time, that divorce can be rendered harmless, even where kids are concerned. Children of divorce know this isn't so. Witness Generation Xers, the first offspring of the easy-out era, who delay marrying, and when they do, take it more seriously than their parents did.

Clearly the present divorce reforms are evidence of a Me Generation still in the driver's seat. It has already "won" the equal right with no-fault moral weakness in marriage. What we await now is the equal right to child abandonment, courtesy of society's latest victims movement -- men's rights types.

These are still, after all, the '90s. Nobody has to get married and have kids. You can lead just about any lifestyle you want. But if you want family, brush up on character, not victimology. Like top-rated radio rabbi Dr. Laura Schlessinger says, marriages are matched sets. If you don't want to lose your kids, gentlemen, don't get divorced.

For the sake of the children, we've got to go back to the '50s. Not for love of Ozzy and Harriet, but because illiberal, iron-clad marital contracts and a maternal aegis for children worked. And still can.

John Collison is a Winnipeg writer and radio talk-show host.

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