Ottawa Citizen

Monday May 10, 1999

Government wants focus on children in divorces

The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA (CP) - Divorce Act reformers will strive for a kinder, gentler system that puts children’s needs first, but talks will continue until 2002, Justice Minister Anne McLellan said Monday.

"Those who must turn to the system would be better served by a less adversarial approach that . . . provides both parents with opportunities to guide and nurture their children," McLellan said in her response to the Senate-Commons committee on child custody and access.

The government will work with the provinces and territories and consult the public before any major changes.

Discussions on how to reform the system will be held alongside the government’s review of child support guidelines.

Public input on specific legislative changes will be gathered in 2001 and results reported to Parliament by May 1, 2002.

The government’s proposed changes include:

- Shifting the current family law focus from parental rights and child "ownership" to the best interests of the child.

- Replacing terms such as custody and access, but the government has not thrown its support behind an alternative. The committee’s preference of "shared parenting" will be discussed.

- Development of a more "holistic and flexible" approach to custody and access that is less combative and more in tune with children’s needs.

- A specific framework to deal with feuding parents depending on the level of conflict.

- New principles to decide parenting arrangements where neglect or other problems have been reported.

- A review of the Criminal Code to see if it sufficiently discourages false allegations of abuse.

The committee made 48 recommendations in its December report after hearing from more than 500 parents, children and other relatives affected by divorce.

Its suggestions included scrapping the words custody and access in favour of shared parenting, and a host of improvements to the 31-year-old Divorce Act.

The government supports replacing terms such as custody with "clearly defined language that promotes . . . the best interests of children and helps to maintain meaningful family relationships for the child after divorce," says its response.

Provinces and territories share responsibility for family law.

Some changes, such as requiring divorcing parents to take an education program, may be introduced before 2002 by those governments, said a Justice Department policy official.

© The Canadian Press, 1999