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September 8, 2001

Conflict emerges in reform of child custody: Justice official

Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

OTTAWA - A controversial proposal to replace child custody orders with "shared parenting" contradicts a principle agreed upon by representatives of federal and provincial governments, a senior official in the Department of Justice said yesterday.

A joint parliamentary committee recommended in 1998 that the federal Divorce Act include a presumption that shared parenting would replace the custody-and-access regime that assigns custody to one or both parents.

"The idea the governments have been working on together is that there should be no presumption," Lise Lafrenière-Henrie, senior counsel for Family Law Policy, said in an interview.

Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice, is obliged to table a response to the report by May 1.

"I'm not going to say what will be in [the reform] or not, but it wouldn't follow the guiding principles if we decided to include a presumption," Ms. La-frenière-Henrie said.

The principles agreed to by representatives of federal, provincial and territorial governments include an agreement to "promote an approach that recognizes that no one way of parenting will be ideal for all children, and that takes into account how children and youth face separation and divorce at different stages of development."

Said Ms. Lafrenière-Henrie: "In other words, the governments and the federal government believe that you can't have a presumption from the beginning because it is not appropriate in all cases.

"However, the idea that both parents are important in a child's life is recognized. The Minister has said many times that when it is safe and appropriate to do so, both parents should be involved in a child's life," she added.

Despite its conflict with the guiding principles, Ms. Lafrenière-Henrie said shared parenting has not been ruled out.

"A decision has not been announced yet on what approach we will be taking on this," she said.

The Quebec Civil Code is the only provincial law that includes a presumption that separating parents are expected to continue to jointly exercise their parental responsibilities, unless the judge orders another parenting arrangement to meet the best interests of the children.

Ms. McLellan will present the results of her department's public consultations next week.

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