Toronto Star

Sunday, November 22, 1998

Shared parenting recommended

Proposed changes to Divorce Act give both parents right to access

OTTAWA (CP) -- Shared parenting should be the legal cornerstone of the Divorce Act under changes to be proposed by a controversial parliamentary committee, a newspaper reported yesterday.

In a final report expected to be completed early next week, the joint Senate-Commons Committee on Child Custody and Access will recommend the federal law be amended to recognize the principle that both parents are equal with respect to children after separation and divorce, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

Shared parenting would eliminate the existing "primary care principle" where one parent can be awarded sole custody of a child. In all but extraordinary cases, it would mean both parents have the legal right to access. It wouldn't, however, automatically mean a 50-50 arrangement.

The all-party committee is expected to recommend judges who rule in separation and divorce cases do so from the principle that it is a child's right to develop a nurturing relationship with both parents -- and the right of both parents to have regular and predictable access to their children.

Any recommendations the committee makes will have to be passed by the House of Commons and the Senate before they become law.

Under the recommended amendments to the 30-year-old Divorce Act, one parent would not be able to block another from getting information about a son or daughter.

The committee is also expected to recommend false accusations of abuse become punishable under the Criminal Code.

Other possible recommendations include:

The committee was due to present its report to Parliament and Justice Minister Anne McLellan at the end of this month but have been granted a delay of about two weeks.

The all-party joint committee, co-chaired by Liberal MP Roger Gallaway and Liberal Senator Landon Pearson, has been dubbed the "Politically Incorrect Committee" because of the number of pro-father submissions it has heard. Women's advocates from across the country have complained some members of the committee treated them badly when they testified and appeared biased.

Gallaway, and fellow committee member Senator Anne Cools, called a news conference to criticize Hedy Fry, the secretary of state for status of women, for allowing her department's Web site to carry links to feminist groups attempting to discredit the committee.

Fry denies she has interfered in the committee's work The department's Web site has always had links to a variety of women's groups, she said.

Gallaway is the chairman of the Senate-House committee, and Cools, a champion of fathers' rights, was instrumental in having it struck.