Royal Gazette

Article published Oct 7, 2002

Family group in call for change to custody laws

Royal Gazette (Bermuda)

Family group Child Watch has been invited along with others to submit its opinions to Government on how child custody law can be improved.

The group submitted a report to Child and Family Services on Friday, along with 27 recommendations on how Bermuda’s current law could be enhanced to ensure better parental involvement when couples split up.

The organisation has been asked to make its submissions before proposed changes to the Affiliation Act and Children’s Act are debated in the House of Assembly later this year.

Top of the Child Watch recommendations is the need to promote more shared parenting, where the mother and father have equal rights and opportunities to be with their children.

This would include living arrangements, schooling, holidays and health care decisions.

And where one parent is unable to be with their child 50 percent of the time, then the group suggests that the child’s time be split 60/40 or 70/30, or what ever is acceptable to both parents, to enable each of them to play significant roles in their child’s life.

However, the group also said it believed the whole issue of child custody should be taken out of the courts and placed, where necessary, into the hands of qualified mediators.

Chairman of the group Eddie Fisher said: “It would appear that countries all over the world are going along the same route, and that is shared parenting. This is taking the place of the words custody and visitation rights.

“The word visitation, to me, is grotesque. A parent should not be classed as a visitor in their child’s life. As soon as you label somebody as that then you are begging them to quit. This is why so many men give up on the relationship they have with their children. They become so disillusioned and disheartened. They are treated like a cheque book.

“Shared parenting is the way to go. It is much more family orientated. We are responsible for our children, but we do not own them. We have to change that mindset.”

Mr. Fisher said where parents were able to have their children 50 percent of the time, then they should be allowed to do that.

However, he said a parent who was unable to have their youngsters for half of the time, should be given more custody rights than just every other weekend, which is often the case now.

“If parents can’t work it out amicably, then we suggest mediation,” added Mr. Fisher. “We strongly advise against the courts.

“As soon as lawyers and courts become involved then there is animosity, and that does not help the child at all.”

In its submission, Child Watch has included recommendations and policies that have been drawn up on child custody in the UK, Canada and the US.

Those drawn up in Canada havebeen compiled by social worker and Liberal Party Senator Anne C. Cools, who has become a spokeswoman for the fathers’ movement in her homeland.

Mr. Fisher added: “Basically, there are many countries that are campaigning for change right now. People see the problems that are created when one of the parents is largely missing from a child’s life.”

One father, who did not wish to be named, said he was desperate to see the law changed.

For eight years, since his son was born, he has been embroiled in a custody battle, but has no rights because he was never married to the boy’s mother and she had failed to name him on the birth certificate.

“I am a registered foster parent, yet I have virtually no rights when it comes to my own son,” said the father.

“When my son was two, his mother was finding it hard to find somewhere to live because she kept upsetting the landlords and I was concerned that my boy was being moved from pillar to post.

“So, I had the child living with me for eight months, with her agreement, because she could not cope. He was, and still is everything to me.”

However, he said that all changed when the mother decided she wanted her son back.

“He was three-years-old and one day she just turned up at my door with two Police officers and demanded him back. She told the officers I had had him for only two weeks.

“I will never forget that day; They took him without warning, and I have been fighting ever since. I still play a role in his life, but it is not as great as it should be. That is wrong.”

Last night, Health and Family Services Minister Nelson Bascome said he wanted as many groups and individuals to express their views on the issue before the matter is debated in Parliament and put before legislators.

He said although proposed changes for child custody have been tabled in the House, amendments could still be made and residents could still be heard.

“Child Watch has come forward, along with some other groups,” said Mr. Bascome.

“This is an opportunity for them to look at the proposals and see where changes could be made to strengthen it further. We will look to see what can be woven in to the amendments.

“We are happy that Child Watch has participated and are still waiting for other feedback.”

Copyright 20©01 The Royal Gazette Ltd.