Child custody reform — Bill C-78 federal government divorce reform: Part 2
In Part 1, I applauded the positive measures in this new government initiative - Bill C-78. Unfortunately, there are a number of serious deficits in this proposed reform of child custody legislation. I believe that there are tenable solutions available to significantly improve Bill C-78.
In view of the sea change in societal norms and family structures in the intervening 33 years since the current Divorce Act was passed, our "broken" child custody legal system requires fundamental structural changes. While I do praise the government for its good-faith housekeeping changes, if we really want to make lives better for children, then reform of a more fundamental nature is called for.
The family rights movement plans to advocate for a number of amendments to Bill C-78, the first two of which relate to "a more fundamental" restructuring, while other proposed revisions would simply be sundry improvements:
- Canada needs a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting. This principle should be the starting point for "best interests of the child" deliberations.
- Adopt continuity of family relationships as the definitional basis for the "best interests of the child" standard.
- Amend proposed relocation clauses to place the onus on relocating parent for changes in parenting responsibilities and arrangements.
- Include arbitration as an explicit component of dispute resolution options.
- Include provision for a "parental coordinator" to mediate and, if necessary, to break deadlock situations in day-to-day implementation of the parenting order.
The proposed Bill C-78 seems to on paper support some admirable measures but does not fund them even in part. Therefore, the movement will also advocate for federal government funding to make the family justice system more efficient and less adversarial:
- Accelerated Unified Family Court implementation (even though we have heard some encouraging announcements of imminent expansion in Ontario);
- Funding support for alternative and non-adversarial dispute resolution (e.g.: We need an expansion of such programs as "393 Mediate" at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto where free and low-cost mediation is provided often on a same-day basis.);
- Support for Provincial Child Support Recalculation Services (the provinces should not have to assume all costs of the good federal initiative);
- Increased Legal Aid funding (wider access to justice in the family system is essential);
- Research funding for a Canadian version of "Family Responsibility Centres" successfully pioneered by Australia (it is crucial to evaluate what you are doing so that you can revise good programs and cancel ineffective programs).
Advocates intend to meet with Members of Parliament to advocate for legislative change that incorporates accepted social science research findings and the consistently expressed views of the Canadian public. A rebuttable presumption in favour of equal shared parenting is the appropriate course of action in light of the research and the consistent polling data over many years (i.e.: about 80 per cent in favour). Vested interests will surely oppose. Write to your Member of Parliament and express your views.