Ottawa Citizen

Monday 23 November 1998

Public backs fathers' rights

'Astonishing' majority wants change to laws on access to children, Compas poll shows

Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

An overwhelming majority of Canadians believes the rights and needs of children and fathers are being ignored by divorce courts, a new poll indicates.

The Citizen-Compas poll suggests a remarkable level of agreement among Canadian men and women on the treatment of different family members during divorce proceedings. It also indicates most want government to get tough with parents who block a child's rightful access to their other parent.

The poll, conducted in conjunction with the Toronto-based National Foundation for Family Research and Education, posed a wide-ranging battery of questions about family life in Canada. The results suggest Canadians care passionately about the children of divorced parents.

Pollster Conrad Winn said he was astonished by the results.

"I can't find an adjective to describe the intensity of public dismay over family issues and the unfulfilled rights of fathers and children," said Mr. Winn.

"I'm surprised because these issues haven't been on the agenda of Canadian politics for a very long time. The most astonishing thing is the absolute consensus among men and women about how the rights and obligations of fathers and children are being ignored."

Fully 80 per cent of those surveyed thought it was "very important" for children from divorced parents to maintain an ongoing relationship with the non-custodial parent; and 17 per cent said that consideration was "somewhat important."

Feeling is most intense on this issue among Canadians under 30 years old: Eighty-six per cent of young adults said it is "very important" for children to maintain a relationship with the non-custodial parent.

Mr. Winn said this is particularly significant because a vast number of Canadians under 30 are children of broken marriages.

Two-thirds of respondents said government should make it a priority to encourage and facilitate relationships between children and non-custodial parents through family law.

Government should get tougher with parents who deliberately block their ex-spouses' access to their children, they said. Feeling on this issue was particularly high in Quebec.

Poll: Men and women agree

Continued from page A1

Most of the survey's respondents said the needs of mothers are generally being met during divorce proceedings, but a vast majority said the needs of children and their fathers are not being met.

Compas asked this question: "When married couples with children seek a divorce in divorce courts, do you think the needs of mothers receive too much, too little or about the right amount of attention?"

The same question was asked about children and fathers.

Twenty-nine 29 per cent of respondents said mothers receive too much attention; 42 per cent said they receive the right amount and 30 per cent said they receive too little.

Five per cent of respondents said children receive too much attention; 25 per cent said they receive the right amount; and 70 per cent said they receive too little.

"Men and women are in complete agreement with respect to children," Compas noted.

Nine per cent said fathers receive too much attention; 29 per cent said they get the right amount; and 62 per cent said they got too little.

The poll results are especially significant because they suggest public opinion is in tune with many of the recommendations expected to be included in the final report of the joint Senate-Commons committee on custody and access.

The committee is likely to recommend significant changes to Canada's Divorce Act.

The committee, scheduled to meet today to put the final touches on its report, will probably recommend the concept of shared parenting replace the existing arrangements.

Under the recommendations, shared parenting would not always be a 50-50 arrangement, but would recognize the legal right of children to develop nurturing relationships with both parents.

The Compas poll, conducted late last month, surveyed 500 Canadians -- a sample size considered accurate to within 4.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Mark Genuis, executive director of the National Foundation for Family Research and Educationa, agreed the poll results are surprising.

"If children are our greatest resource," he said, "we have to do more than just say it. We need to do something about it.

"Canadians seem to be saying that fathers and children are not getting their due when families break down. The strongest reason for even caring about fathers in these situations is that they can serve a positive role in the life of a child."

"The strength of people's feelings surprises me," he added.

"But it's a pleasant surprise."

This is the first of a three-part series. Tomorrow: How family life is affecting the emotional health of Canadians.

Copyright 1998 Ottawa Citizen