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Wednesday, May 19, 1999More Canadian couples opting to stay married
Better mediation cited: Even partners who eventually divorce are together longer
The divorce rate in Canada declined for the third straight year in a row in 1997, proving that the trend is more than just a statistical blip, according to figures released yesterday by Statistics Canada.
In 1997, 67,408 couples divorced -- down 5.8% from 1996 and 14.5% from 1994.
Moira McQueen, a professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto who specializes in marriage issues, said the perceived effect of a divorce on children may be one of the reasons the divorce rate is falling.
"There's been so much coming out now about the impact [of divorce] on children," she said. "And I think the other thing is that mediation has really improved. Maybe there are people who are almost at the divorce stage who end up giving it another chance."
The Statistics Canada report also showed that even couples who divorce are staying together longer. The average duration of a marriage prior to divorce increased to 13 years in 1997, up from 12 in 1993.
"It had been my impression that people were getting divorced earlier on in the course of their marriage," Robert Glossop, the executive director of programs at the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa.
"But people now wait longer to get married, and therefore it may be that people are perhaps a little more realistic about what the expectations and obligations and responsibilities that are entailed in marriage are . . . [so] it may be for those who do decide to divorce that the blush comes off the rose a little slower."
Dr. Glossop said that one reason why the divorce rate may be dropping is that fewer people are getting married, choosing instead to live in common-law relationships. When such unions end, the couple simply separates, without signing divorce papers.
But the fact that people are tying the knot less often does not fully compensate for the decline in marital splits.
The Divorce Act was changed in 1986 making divorces easier to obtain, so for several years the number of marital breakups was inordinately high. "There was what the economists would call a pent-up demand," said Dr. Glossop.
The report also had implications for the debate over shared parenting. It found that 39,204 of the divorces taking place in 1997 involved custody orders, and in 61.2% of those cases custody was granted to the wife. Joint custody was awarded in 27.6% of the cases, and husbands got the children just 11% of the time.
Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, said last week it will be three years before she will allow changes to the Divorce Act to make shared custody the rule rather than the exception. That decision came after a joint Senate-Commons committee endorsed changing the act to allow mothers and fathers to have equal rights of custody and access after divorce.
Roger Gallaway, a Liberal MP from Sarnia, Ont., who chaired that committee, said yesterday the Statistics Canada report "just confirms everything that we've heard -- that men are shut out of the process."
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