Hot! It takes two to raise a child

NationalPost.com – FullComment
Feb 15, 2012.    Barbara Kay

Two weeks ago the U.K. government announced its intention to amend the 1989 Children’s Act. Changes will include a “presumption of shared parenting” to ensure that children’s relationships with both parents continues after separation. Under the current adversarial system, as in Canada, legal custody battles almost invariably end with mothers gaining sole custody.

The decision was based more in pragmatism than compassion. Mounting sociological evidence confirms the terrible social costs of fatherlessness: triple the rates of truancy, teen pregnancies and drug abuse, to name a few.

Also proposed is a £10-million mediation fund. One spokesman enunciated what has become obvious to rational observers: “The courts are rarely the best place for resolving private disputes about the care of children.” In truth, no one but career stakeholders favours the status quo.

Let’s hope the U.K. example will hasten the inevitable arrival of equal shared parenting (ESP) as the default presumption, in the absence of abuse, in Canada. This is, after all, an idea whose time came decades ago. The 1978 Family Law reform Act interpreted the “best interests of the child” to mean: “where feasible, a child should have maximum access to both parents”; the “animosity of the parents should not interfere with this interest”; and the “needs of both parents should be considered.”

The in-depth 1998 Senate-House of Commons Joint Committee Report For the Sake of the Children also recommended ESP as a default presumption. But the report fell into a black political hole. Guided by feminism-inspired “social context” courses they take at the National Judicial Institute, unaccountable family-court judges with no expertise in children’s best emotional and psychological interests privilege mothers’ rights in hugely disproportionate numbers.

Indeed, fathers’ money is welcome, but the fathers themselves aren’t considered necessary to their children’s well-being at all, nor their children necessary to theirs. In 2003 justice minister Martin Cauchon stated, “Divorced fathers have no rights, only responsibilities.” He might well have added, “Divorced mothers have no responsibilities, only rights.” For fathers who fail to pay child support, even when they can’t pay, may spend more time in jail than a cocaine dealer and have their faces plastered on the Internet as “deadbeat dads”; but how many Canadian mothers have spent a night in jail for arbitrarily denying a father court-appointed time with his children?

Ideologues argue that fathers only demand equal parenting rights as a “patriarchal backlash” or to reduce their child support burdens or to punish their ex-mates. Some individual men are doubtless guilty of bad faith, just as some individual women seek sole custody for its material benefits or to punish their ex-mates.

But anecdotes are not evidence of a rule, nor must they trump human rights. Most fathers anguish over the loss of their children. Post-divorce suicide rates for men rise to 12-16 times those of divorced women, a direct reflection of the grief and trauma fathers suffer from their marginalization. And since residential fathers today spend virtually the same amount of time in hands-on parenting as mothers, their despair in exile is far more profound than it used to be.

Edward Kruk, professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, has long researched the iniquities to both non-custodial men and women in our winner-take-all custody arena. His most recent published article, in The American Journal of Family Therapy, offers 16 evidence-supported Arguments for an Equal Parenting Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody. Amongst them, Kruk shows how and why equal parenting:

  • preserves children’s relationships with both parents and vice-versa (right now about 30% of children have no contact with their non-custodial fathers);
  • reduces feelings of insecurity and rejection in children;
  • decreases parental conflict (40% of first-time incidence of family violence occurs after an adversarial separation);
  • respects children’s wishes (70% of children of divorce approve equal parenting, as do 93% of the 8% of children raised in ESP homes);
  • reduces incidence of ignorance- or bias-based judicial decisions;
  • reduces the risk of parental alienation that can and does flourish under sole custody conditions;
  • guarantees what should be children’s and parents’ Charter rights to each other’s love and companionship, as enunciated in the United Nations declaration regarding the rights of children.

ESP is objectively fair to both sexes and to children, and thus a win-win-win policy. Over 70% of ordinary Canadians prefer it. ESP has long been a plank in the platform of the Conservative party, which now forms a majority government. Justice Minister Nicholson: It’s a no-brainer. What the heck are you waiting for?

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