National Post

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Tuesday, May 25, 1999

Divorce law inconsistently applied: study
Provinces react differently to same federal act

Stewart Bell
National Post

A new study commissioned by the Justice Department has found courts across the country handle divorce cases differently, even though they are governed by the federal Divorce Act.

The handling of divorce cases "varies widely in different parts of the country," despite efforts to maintain consistency, says the report, which stops short of saying which provinces make it easier for couples to split, or which tend to favour one parent over the other, or award more or less generous child support orders.

But the report, by three family law experts, does note that "a number of factors may affect the process of divorce and the determining of child support in Canada. These factors . . . vary considerably from site to site in this study."

For example, only New Brunswick provides legal aid services for all child support cases, while other provinces will only pay for low-income parents or in cases where domestic violence is involved.

Couples who want to divorce in St. John's, Nfld., are required to appear before a judge, whereas all other provinces allow what are known as "paper divorces" or "desk divorces," where no court appearance is needed.

In Alberta, divorcing parents are required to take a parenting education program, while in other regions it is optional (although B.C. is experimenting with a pilot project started last year).

Edmonton is the only jurisdiction where child support orders are checked to ensure they comply with federal guidelines, the study says.

Guidelines that were supposed to lead to a more uniform national divorce and child support system came into effect on May 1, 1997. The study was commissioned to see how well the new rules were working.

Researchers from the Canadian Institute for Law and the Family and the Queen's University law faculty analyzed more than 8,000 divorce cases involving child custody at courts from Victoria to St. John's.

Quebec was not included because it has a different system for determining child support.

The report is to be released shortly by the Justice Department. A draft copy was obtained by the National Post.

The study found:

- Mothers had sole custody of the children in 72.8% of cases reviewed, as opposed to 6.3% for fathers. Custody was shared 6.6% of the time.

- Mothers had legal representation in 74.2% of cases, compared with 59% for fathers.

- Median monthly child support was $413, and ranged from $1 to $14,200.

- The median income of parents paying child support was $34,725, and ranged from nothing to $3.3-million. The median income for parents receiving child support was $21,000, and ranged from nothing to $360,000.

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