September 4, 2008
Divorce shouldn't mean both parents can't have equal access to their children.
That's the attitude Fathers 4 Justice Canada wants the federal government to adopt.
Members of this movement, decked out in super hero costumes -- on the premise that kids view their children as super heroes -- brought this message to Chatham Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters in front of the Civic Centre, Denis Van Decker, Ontario director of Fathers 4 Justice, said the goal is to change the "divorce regime" to get "presumptive equal parenting."
In the case of divorce, he said this would mean both parties are presumed to be equal parents as a starting point to work out access to children.
Van Decker said if divorce cases went to "mandatory mediation" it would put a lot of family law lawyers out of work and the empty court rooms could become mediation centres.
He said this type of system is in place in Sweden and Australia, noting it helps reduce the hostilities surrounding divorce.
"The problem here is we have a system that is innately conflict- driven and hostility-driven and the losers are the kids," Van Decker said.
Several Conservative MPs, including Dave Van Kesteren and Bev Shipley, are supporters of a private members bill introduced by Maurice Vellacott, MP for Saskatoon-Wauskewin, which proposes changes to the Federal Divorce Act to enshrine the principle of equal parenting after divorce, Van Decker said.
He anticipates if there is a majority Conservative government elected this bill will become law.
Van Decker also credits women for helping the group get organized, noting the national director, Kris Titus, is female.
Chatham resident Maureen Geddes, a proponent of advancing women in the workplace, said through her research she realized to get equality it has to be there for both men and women.
"We have situation where there is a strong bias against men in our court system and that we're systemically cutting men out of their childrens' lives," she said.
Geddes, who is a member of the Canadian Equal Parenting Council, said she shares equal parenting with the fathers of her two sons.
"I think it's tremendously important to the future of our society and for our kids that we make sure dads can be in their kids' lives," she said.
She added the issue also extends to grandparents, who can be shut out of their grandchildrens' lives if the father is cut out as well.
Even if a divorced couple is willing to work together, Geddes said with issues such as tax laws working against you, the system isn't structured to support men and women living in different homes raising a child together.
Van Kesteren said he was pleased to second the bill introduced by Vellacott.
He said if the bill dies due to an election being called, "we would reinstate that again.
"It's in the best interests of children that they have access to both parents . . . This guarantees that," Van Kesteren said.
He said there are safeguards in the bill to address putting children in a violent or dangerous situations.
But if it's just a case of parenting and not giving men or women the right to see their children, "this has got to stop."
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