Family

Fathers should stand up for parenting rights: Colman

By April Cunningham, Associate Editor

While searching for a compromise is always best, that doesn’t mean fathers should “play dead” in custody and support battles with their ex, says Toronto family lawyer Gene C. Colman.

“You need to pay what is legally required, but there are times when a person must take a stand to ensure he will not be economically exploited," Colman, principal of Gene C. Colman Family Law Centre, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Being so stripped of your assets and income is not great for your kids.”

Colman’s comments come in response to a recent column by Christie Blatchford in the National Post, in which she shared advice from a father who survived protracted litigation with his ex-spouse and ended up with joint custody of the children. The column was part of a series of stories highlighting the "broken" family law system in Canada.

The man acknowledged the family law system is unfair, a fact fathers must recognize to come out the other side, the article says.

“For issues like child support, I roll over and play dead, but if a man fights that, then he is only making his situation worse and that can’t be good for his kids. He is demonstrating unreasonableness and that’s what gets men in trouble,” the man told Blatchford.

Colman calls the man’s attitude “passive and defeatist.”

“You should not roll over and play dead when the other side says you earn $150,000 and you really only earn $50,000,” he says, using those figures as an example. “Courts have literally destroyed many men by imputing to them income that is totally unreasonable and unsupported by any objective evidence.

"Women rarely have incomes arbitrarily attributed to them as men do.”

Fathers tend to be treated as “wallets,” valued for their earning power, Colman says.

“As a society, we still don’t tend to see dads as capable parents. But we should, because that is the modern day reality.”

Colman says many lawyers and judges are influenced by stereotypes of the “deadbeat dad” — a pejorative he says that is not supported by his own research.

“Judges and lawyers simply reflect those common myths and stereotypes. It’s a tough go struggling against them,” he says.

A legislative shift in support of equal-shared parenting would be the best way to handle such myths and financial imbalances while giving children the opportunity to spend ample time with both parents, Colman adds.

He was an active participant in the drafting and advocacy efforts of a federal parliament bill that would have mandated a rebuttable presumption in favour of equal-shared parenting. The bill was defeated in 2014.

“Hopefully, the time will come in Canada when equal-shared parenting will be the legislated norm, subject to exceptional cases where a parent cannot step up to meet his or her responsibilities,” he says.

“We need a system that responds to children’s needs to have involved parents. That should be the first rule.

"The system should treat all children as economically equal and leave their parents with a fair share of their incomes to support the children — in two households.”

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