Owen Sound Sun Times

Changes to Divorce Act seem to be superficial

Saturday, December 14, 2002
Owen Sound Sun Times

Editorial - Experts are divided on what impact, if any, changes to the Divorce Act will have on family life in Canada. The changes were announced by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon recently in Ottawa.

One thing, however, is clear. Divorce is a big fact of life for Canadians. In the year 2000, for example, a total of 71,144 married couples ended their unions with a divorce decree. Divorce decrees that deeply affected untold numbers of children.

In detailing the proposed changes, Minister Cauchon made all the right noises about the subject. Divorce, he said, “is not the time for picking winners and losers. This is about what’s best for the kids.”

Although it’s difficult to quarrel with that sentiment, some of the proposed changes are troubling, mostly because they seem to be pretty superficial.

The law will be rewritten to adopt the idea of “parental responsibilities” instead of “custody.” And the word “contact” will replace the word “access”.

No matter how well intentioned these changes may be, it’s difficult to understand how meaningful they will become. If the whole exercise ends up being reduced to one of semantics, nothing will be accomplished in the field of family breakdown that affects the lives of so many Canadians.

In preparing the legislation the government rejected the urgings of divorced fathers’ groups and a joint Commons-Senate committee to make the notion of “shared parenting” the cornerstone of Canada’s divorce laws.

As unclear as such a concept might be, surely it would have been an important element for incorporation into any change in the statutes.

One divorced father of two teenagers, said without the inclusion of such an idea , “I don’t think it’s (the new legislation) going to make an ounce of difference in the world”

On the other hand, a lawyer who has practised family law for 20 years, said the elimination of “inflammatory” language in the law will help couples to discuss their roles “in a more meaningful way”

At this early stage, Canadians can only hope that interpretation proves to be the most accurate.