Edmonton Journal

Sunday 14 May 2000

MPs sent a reminder to change Divorce Act

Groups angry suggestions still being studied

Hanneke Brooymans, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

Ribbons designed to resemble small children have been sent to Ottawa to remind MPs some Canadians are waiting for changes to the Divorce Act.

A year ago, federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan accepted dozens of recommendations to amend the act. The ribbons were meant to mark that anniversary.

"It also marks one year of zero activity by McLellan," said Bob Bouvier, president of Edmonton's chapter of the Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society.

Members of the society and of Grandparents Unlimited are frustrated and angry that no action has been taken to remedy problems they perceive in the Divorce Act, problems they say often deny them access to children caught in the middle of divorce.

"Until I was involved in my own situation I would never have believed what the laws are and how unjust our system is," said Bouvier, a father of two boys.

"If you go through a divorce and the people involved are sensible people, you don't need the laws -- people can deal with things themselves. But in many cases, what happens is that it is not reasonable and people's emotions and things get involved."

Bouvier said the main problem areas are access denial, false allegations and unjust maintenance.

The federal government has promised to study the recommendations, including a key suggestion to adopt a less adversarial system of shared parenting, and report back by May 1, 2002.

Bouvier said that isn't good enough. Children grow up quickly and can miss out on love and input from the parent left out of the loop in those few years.

But McLellan is frustrated by people who think changes to the Divorce Act will solve problems instantly. "For people like that, they think all you do to make the pain and the hurt and the anger go away is change a few words in the Divorce Act," she said.

McLellan said she and her provincial and territorial colleagues are working to create a seamless family-law system to serve children's best interests. Separation is handled under provincial law, as are common-law relationships, while divorce is covered under federal law.

The intention is to create a unified system so a difficult situation isn't made more complex and costly.

BREAKUPS

- On an average day in Canada in 1996, 195 divorces were finalized.

- Divorces in Canada

in 1986: 78,304;

in 1996: 71,528

- In the 1996 census, 1.5 million people in Canada reported they were divorced.

- In 1997, there were 39,204 divorce cases in Canada involving a custody order for dependent children, almost half the total number of divorces granted. Custody was granted to the wife in 61.2 per cent of these cases. Joint custody was given in 27.6 per cent of the cases and custody to the husband in 11 per cent.

- In Alberta, the number of divorces per 1,000 marriages in 1997 was 365.

Source: Statistics Canada