Law moves at a snail's pace

October 1, 2004


By Paula Carlson

All dads are destined to be deadbeat, turn physically abusive upon divorce, and do not possess the skills necessary to change a diaper or hug a yowling toddler after a scraped knee.
At least that's what the courts seem to believe.
For better or for worse, marriage breakdown is not new or unusual, and does not carry the stigma it did in the salad days of the '60s, when hot-to-trot divorcees and single parents were pariahs.
We've had nearly 40 years (since Canada adopted "no fault" divorce laws in 1967) to get used to the idea that moms and dads sometimes can't live together anymore.
Yet divorcing fathers are still getting the short shrift.
They rarely get sole custody of their kids. In joint custody arrangements, they best be on speaking terms with mom, or scheduled visits will be unceremoniously scuttled. And fellas, you better have deep pockets, because your chequebook, not your child-rearing aspirations, is what's most important post-divorce.
This is not to say that some men don't live up to their parental responsibilities, financial or otherwise, or that some men aren't abusive, manipulative, or downright dangerous.
But so are some women.
We are long past the idea that character flaws can be drawn along gender lines, and with both sexes working in near equal numbers, custody is no longer as simple as parking the kids with a stay-at-home mom.
Enter the long-awaited Bill C-22 and its "Child-Centred Family Justice Strategy" - Canada's amendment to the Divorce Act.
The bill aims to minimize the negative impact of separation and divorce on children, help spouses reach "child-centred" parenting agreements, and simplify the often adversarial court process.
Fathers' rights groups say it will do nothing of the sort.
The bill's most significant change was replacing the terms "custody and access" with "parental responsibilities," ostensibly to remove the "win/lose" perception among splitting spouses.
Hal Legere, who scaled the Pattullo Bridge dressed as masked crusader Robin this weekend to draw attention to the plight of divorced dads, would prefer to see "shared parenting" legislation that assumes from the get-go that mom and dad get equal time with the kids.
He and other Fathers 4 Justice members believe that without specific direction, judges will continue to tip the scales in favour of women.
However, there is only so much legislation can do. Much of the trouble lies with immature exes who think that when their marriage ends, so does their relationship. Not so when junior's involved.
Still, enshrining a level playing field in law would be a good move, and could accomplish at least two things.
Couples might approach the notion of divorce more cautiously, knowing that no "side" is guaranteed an edge when it comes to their children's future.
And it would allow guys like Legere et al to ditch the capes and publicity stunts and let them be the heroes they really are - fathers who are an integral part of their kids' lives.

From the October 1 edition of the free-paper "The Surrey Now".


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