Ottawa Citizen
Friday, April 12, 2002

Drawing attention to the sorry state of divorce laws in Canada

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

'Stop divorcing like a bunch of drunken fools!"

That was probably the most sensible response to a question about how to do something about the sorry state of divorce law in Canada. It came from Montreal lawyer Anne-France Goldwater during a Saturday session on Parliament Hill.

It was a symposium trying to draw attention to the long- shelved report, For the Sake of the Children. The 80-plus attendees agreed the current system is broken and abusing children.

Ms. Goldwater offered other conclusions.

"We are not amoebas. We come together in love and respect and make a child ... Four years ago we started to wake up to the scandal that was going on in our courts ... Children have rights. Parents have duties and responsibilities ... Custody means ownership. We don't own people and that includes children."

She said it was wrong to turn children's futures over to "aggressive lawyers and stupid judges."

The words "custody and access" are at the centre of this issue.

The joint Commons-Senate commission that travelled the country hearing hundreds of submissions and put together the recommended changes wants those words removed. They are the words that now drive the divorce industry.

Supporters of the report want the words replaced by "shared parenting." They would change the dynamics from a fight over the kids to a fight for the kids. The current battle cry of the family court, or divorce court, is that courts must act "in the best interests of the child." That should mean keeping two parents and their extended families in the child's life.

What makes that difficult was probably best shown by Senator Anne Cools when she read a judgment from a worried judge who had just given custody to a woman who was leaving Canada with two children to live with a new love. He said he wasn't comfortable but felt he had no choice but to give custody "to a woman who is shackled by her own discontent."

Father's child-support payments were set and she waived spousal support. She later returned to sue for and get spousal support.

Ms. Cools: "Primary caregiver is a mischievous term ... Bringing in the money is pretty primary."

Edward Kruk, professor of social work, University of British Columbia, on issues of family and children: "Why do we need courts at all?"

Martin Loney, social policy consultant, Ottawa: "(Feminists) tweak statistics mercilessly until they get the desired results." He referred to studies showing women spend more hours in the home. "I live in a house full of women. It takes me 10 minutes from getting up to out the door. It takes them an hour. I rest my case."

Julian Payne, former law professor, Ottawa: "In marriage it's normal to get angry. Don't press the police button or the court button. Press the counselling button. The law is a blunt weapon. Divorce is not a positive experience ... Don't just blame the law, blame the legislators." He has a beef with the word "access" and said there's no adequate definition in English, but from French can be made to mean "right of visit. A parent as a visitor? That's obscene!"

Ms. Goldwater again: "Criminalize false allegations. Don't wait for lawyers to do it. They're too wimpy." Calling herself a "card-carrying feminist," she said law-changers need a name, but didn't like "male-ism". Somebody shouted: "Humanism!" There was a cheer and a ringing endorsement from Ms. Goldwater.

Nathan Greenfield, English professor, Algonquin College, spoke about the feminization of school libraries. "It's enough to make a 10-year-old boy want to be an illiterate."

Carey Linde, Vancouver lawyer, described a new critter he called "the victim feminist." Definition: "It's everybody else's fault ... The courts are moving faster than the law ... Write letters supporting good judges ... The state should remove itself from child support completely."

Mr. Linde praised the work of David Shackleton, founder and editor of Ottawa-based Everyman. He said the bimonthly men's-issues magazine is the voice of reason in the current struggle and said the best way to join the fight was to subscribe (832-2284 or and join the dialogue.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to Read previous columns at

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