Child Support and Access Reform Committee

Draft FFE Submission

 

Draft Submission to the Joint Senate-Commons on Custody and Access by Keith Harris on behalf of Fathers for Equality, (PART III), Victoria, B.C.

[Note: The Attachments to this document are not on the website. If you require them, please call Keith at 652-3205.]

Submitted: April 27, 1998.

Opening remarks:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity of talking to you today. I realize that you may already have heard some of what I am about to say and I beg your patience for that. I am also aware that the committee has heard from some very prominent and well financed interest groups. We much appreciate the fact that you are making available to us, perhaps for the very first time, an opportunity to speak on behalf of fathers.

I hope to offer you some insights which stem from four years of volunteering to help men through the difficult time of divorce. The viewpoint will therefore be a little different. The sample population I will draw is not a random sample. I would say they fall into roughly three types: fathers who are in despair at what the system does to their children (and themselves), child support matters and related financial problems and personal problems caused by the foregoing. I have met approximately two hundred men during the course of the last four years.

 

Preamble/Background:

Canadian society has undergone great changes since the Divorce Act was first enacted. Women have gone through a second emancipation. Their equality has been recognized in the country's universities, governments the work place and the laws of the country. Today men are very often equal parents during marriage and as a result there is an increasing number of people including fathers who see co-parenting or shared parenting after divorce as in the children's best interests and they are seeking equality under the law to make this become a reality.

"Canadian child custody law and practice remain fundamentally adversarial, despite the best intentions of a myriad of divorce professionals, and the guiding principle of the "best interests of the child" Kruk, ( Attachment 1. p.6). We seek fundamental changes to the Divorce Act to enshrine the assumption of co-parenting after divorce. The objectives include:

- providing children with more opportunities to enjoy time with their fathers and their extended family;

- offering mothers more free time and the opportunities to pursue their own careers;

- generating greater family support for families in crisis by expanding the parenting vase (ie the need for foster care should be reduced);

- defusing the adversarial divorce process and reducing pressures on the legal system;

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- making available more resources available for the children;

- providing gender neutral parent instruction in the schools;

- creating a fairer, more just and more equal society in keeping with the arrival of the new millennium; and, last but not least,

- supporting the day to day involvement of fathers with their children.

 

The Failure of the Divorce Act:

While I recognize that two well balanced separating parents have little need for the Divorce Act, the reality is that it is needed where one or more parent has or perceives that he or she has an advantage in not cooperating.

Often the information supplied to courts during interim hearings may have no resemblance with truth or reality and often rely on stereotypes, case history or simply be a result of one party's access to the legal system which is enormously enhanced by legal aid or personal wealth. The average father, after interim legal fees, child support usually paid to his former spouse, and possibly alimony, is most often destitute by this point. The issue of the long term child's best interests from his point of view cannot be raised.

The assumption is often repeated to fathers by the authorities during separation that "any concerns you have should be raised at trial". However almost no-one can afford a trial and the decisions rendered at the interim stage usually become final, regardless of their appropriateness.

In situations where a child may be at risk ie where the mother has substance abuse or serious psychological problems, perjured affidavits are common and the professional information documenting a person's personal problems or handicaps are usually inaccessible to the concerned parent and the court. Sometimes a father is denied access by a mother, not because of any risk he may pose to the child, but rather that he may gain further knowledge of abuse to his child and inform the authorities.

There are instances of a mother concealing a stepfather's sexual abuse of a child for years for fear of losing him. A child's best interest probably would be to live with their father while the mother is in this abusive relationship with her new partner. However it is almost impossible to convince a court of this. We have seen many cases of women who suffered abuse as children, who when they become mothers act in the most extraordinary ways...perhaps recalling their own suffering and deny access to their former partner for no real reason.

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There are many ongoing cases where professionals including social workers refuse to document child abuse "because the father will only use it for custody purposes". Mothers or women's rights appear to have become confused with the child's rights. False allegations of abuse by mothers are cleared up relatively quickly, but those of abuse by fathers are almost universally left to dangle (Georgialee Lang, family lawyer, Vancouver Conference Centre, March 1998) with a hint of impropriety lingering in the court to hinder his access or his protection of the child.

The act fails to recognize automatically major changes in circumstance including disability, unemployment, cyclical industry downturns and death or disablement of a custodial parent.

The committee is already well aware that access is in reality very seldom able to be enforced.

There is also a phenomenon called access erosion. This is undermining in every way possible the non-custodial parent's relationship, some examples of which are:

- continual lateness, periodic denial for flimsy or non-existent reasons, early retrieval;

- alienating the child from the non-custodial parent by denigration of (usually) him or his parenting skills;

- refusing to discuss any details of the child such as diet, mood, recent activities, etc.;

- releasing the child in a tired or distraught way without explanation;

After months or years of this activity, the child may not want to visit Dad to prevent these kind of situations. It need hardly be said that a father being subject to this demeaning treatment is in need of superhuman patience, self control and unlimited love for his children. Not surprisingly many give up.

Perhaps the committee is not so aware of how applications for joint custody are handled in the courts in B.C. We are told (see Attachment 2) that joint custody is only granted in the courts where both partners are willing to accept it. This means in reality that all mothers who want sole custody need to do, is to be uncooperative !

Some typical games played in the courts include:

- provoke an assault on someone. This facilitates a restraining order which will create a formidable barrier for the children's contact with the father;

- make a threat that you are about to make an accusation of sexual abuse. Usually a father will give up any hope of

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access at this point. Even an informal accusation will need the minimum of $10,000 to refute;

- falsely report that your ex-spouse has assaulted you. This may trigger a restraining order and a requirement to take an anger management course. This provides the "evidence" of the need to restrict access;

- deny access to cause the ex-spouse extra expenditure to go to the expense of obtaining a court order "enforcing" the access. This will also start the alienation process so that later a therapist or counsellor or similar may document that the child is afraid of the father;

- if on legal aid, write voluminous and pointless (and maybe perjured) affidavits to force an expensive and pointless response. This will almost certainly eliminate the possibility of a trial;

- move away and repeat any of the above;

- go into a transition house and repeat any of the above;

- immediately stop working to invoke the "tender years" doctrine for young children and appear financially dependent on the former spouse;

- refuse to cooperate with the ex-spouse on anything to prevent the court from awarding joint custody;

- enroll the children in expensive vocational activities to increase the amount of child support;

 

Fathers for Equality:

Fathers for Equality is a voluntary organization dedicated to supporting fathers in marital stress. We have been witness to hundreds of fathers dealing with divorces, sometimes not well. We have been witness to what seems to us to be the prevailing expectation of the courts and government agencies for fathers to "go away, pay up and shut up". We believe that acknowledgement of fathers roles in parenting is a win, win, win situation. Children have a real dad, mothers get a break and fathers fulfil themselves. There are also very real opportunities to save on the public social services in the courts and in foster care costs, etc.

We are deeply disturbed at the ease with which a father's access to his children can be frustrated by former spouses, the courts, social agencies etc. A father's bond to his children is no less strong than that of a mother's and should be respected as much and treated equally. Guy Thisdelle has already well documented the serious problems many fatherless children suffer from.

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Policy Position of Fathers for Equality:

General:

For the purposes of the Special Senate-Commons Joint Committee on Custody and Access we would like it to be known that we believe in the following concepts and principles:

- We abhor family violence whether it be perpetrated by man or woman.

- We abhor physical, sexual or psychological abuse of children whether it be perpetrated by a woman or a man;

Changes to the Divorce Act should:

- enshrine the presumption of pro-equal alternating shared parenting, which includes joint custody, care and control, and quardianship;

- Implement a mandatory mediation program to enhance a non-adversarial divorce solution;

- Resort to court solutions of child custody matters, only when proven relevant criminal actions to the child by one or both parents are evident. Investigate alternative solutions within the family including the awarding of sole custody to the other guardian/co-parent or extended families such as grandparents.

- Remove all financial obligations of either parent to the other under the concept of shared care and control.

- In the event that an unequal parenting relationship results, the child care costs and the income of both parents shall be proportionately and equally taken into consideration in the financial settlement.

- Review the legislation known as Bill C-41 in light of any subsequent changes to the Divorce Act.

I will not attempt to repeat what I have observed has already been well presented before the committee but will highlight some areas which Fathers for Equality judge need some careful enhancement. Because of our limited resources we are unable to discuss every single concern in out three briefs.

 

Support for Other Submissions to the Committee:

I have observed or have discussed and fully support the views of the following:

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- National Shared Parenting Association, Ottawa;

- Fathers are Capable Too, Ottawa;

- Dr. Barbara Landau;

- Dr. Howard Irving;

- Guy Thisdelle, The Father's Advocacy Program

- Dr. Ferrel Christensen, Univ. of Alberta

- Maser, Harvey, Victoria Mens' Centre

- McIntyre, Tony, Men Supporting Men, Nanaimo B.C.

- Cole, Chris, Victoria, B.C.; individual submission

- Reid, Doug, Vancouver B.C., Fathers are Capable Too

- Young, Elizabeth, Canadian Grandparents' Rights Assoc.

Related Submissions (each one covers separate topics):

 

- Tal, Avi, "Fathers for Equality", Part I, Victoria, B.C.

- Campbell, David, "Fathers for Equality", Part II, Victoria

 

Issues:

1. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND A FATHER'S ROLE IN CHILD PROTECTION:

Recommendation:

Strengthen Section 16(5) to provide specifically for both guardians of a child to be supplied information of abuse unless one of them is the source of abuse (see correspondence of Attorney General of B.C. for a sample of barriers - Attachment 3). Children at significant risk should be able to re-locate smoothly and quickly to a safer environment with their father without becoming a ward of court or being subject to continued abuse.

2. REVISED DEFINITION OF CHILD ABUSE:

Under the assumption that spousal abuse is perpetrated roughly equally by both parents, we believe that access denial, parental alienation and child abduction should also be recognized as child abuse where they can be clearly and independently recognized. This affects the definitions of "child's best interests(CBE)" too. We believe that CBE should be only be defined in non gender related, clear, concise and verifiable terms.

 

Recommendation (a):

Revise Section 16(8) to reflect some concrete benchmarks of health, education, and ability to maintain the children in an abuse-free environment.

Legislation should specifically acknowledge the significance of parental alienation, access denial and abduction to custody and access issues.

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I would like the Committee to understand that much fundamental research is needed into the abuse of process around these issues.

Parental child abduction is conducted almost with complete impunity. Foreign agencies will not usually assist a searching parent by publishing their photograph unless criminal charges have been filed.

Recommendation(b):

Consult Missing Children of Canada for advice. Consider immediate criminal charges/cancellation of passports, drivers licence, etc.

3. FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF SEXUAL ABUSE OR SPOUSAL VIOLENCE:

We believe that it is in the child's best interests that false accusations to deprive a parent of custody and/or access is a form of parental alienation and should be rapidly and effectively dealt with. It is recognized that the appearance of abuse can be created by unscrupulous lawyers without any reference to professional standards of conduct or investigation.

Recommendation:

Insert a new sub-section in Section 16 to specify that a tribunal of experts be formed to assess accusations(We believe this is the process in Australia). It is recommended that this tribunal be composed of at least two psychologists recommended by the governing body, a social worker and any other individual or professional appropriate to the situation. A time limit such as six weeks or two months should be set for a decision. Real cases of false accusations should be raised to the criminal code.

Legislation should acknowledge that spousal violence is not a gender issue, but a family one. There needs to be a very clear distinction between an isolated incident perpetrated under tremendous stress, or excessive provocation. The former should have little effect on custody and access issues.

Supervised access should only be used in the clear and properly documented cases child, spousal abuse or similar circumstances. It is very degrading weapon in the divorce arsenal.

4. PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS:

The American Psychological Association (op. cit. page 678) clearly states that "....biases regarding age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation,

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disability, language, culture and socioeconomic status may interfere with an objective (custody) evaluation." A lofty ideal which I have never yet encountered in the many Custody and Access Reports I have read. The Ontario Psychological Foundation has published some excellent "Custody/Access Guidelines (op.cit. Attachment 4) (co-authored by Dr. Landau whom you already know), which form the basis of those used by the Attorney General in B.C. and I believe by Social Workers. However I have yet read a report which even vaguely follows these guidelines. The College of Psychologists of B.C. have approved and are very shortly to publish policy (a stronger form of exhortation) on these matters and I undertake to forward a copy to the Committee as soon as it is released. It is my understanding that the elimination of gender bias as cited above in the ABA Guidelines are to be incorporated in the policy. In general we have found the level of expertise in the production of Custody and Access reports to be appalling. Sometimes they are completed without almost no discussion with the father or any of his references.

 

It is well recognized that there is significant bias against fathers in the legal and a social service arena. Judge Gove recognized "the protection of a child...should not be overshadowed by a desire to help parents improve their lives and abilities". As recently as 1993 the writer was given a child abuse manual in which only the male gender is present in a list of "Parent Behaviours that may indicate Abuse or Neglect" (Ministry of Social Services, op.cit. p.93, 4(a) & (h)) Attachment 5. It gives the writer no comfort that this reference is almost co-temporaneous with Matthew Vaudreuil's death at the hands of his mother who was well know to have serious psychological problems. Social workers are cautioned about " a parent who suffers from a mental condition that may at times limit HIS ability to protect the child (my italics).

 

Recommendation (a):

The terminology "disclosure" be eliminated from all context of investigation. It seems to imply a need for the investigator has to discover something improper even at the expense of the truth.

5. REVIEW BILL C - 41 FOR UNFAIRNESS AND WHERE IT AFFECTS THE ABILITY TO CO-PARENT

(i) The current guidelines make it all but impossible for non-custodial parents of modest means to parent. The 40% rule for consideration of recognition of child care expenses is a barrier to parenting. I request that it

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be based on the facts of the individual case. Accommodation costs have to be incurred even if a child only visits once a month.

 

(ii) The current guidelines do not recognize predictable changes in circumstance such as in the cyclical industries like real estate fishing, logging, mining etc.

I request that the act be amended to permit automatic changes of support in proportion to decreases in salary.

(iii) Under the current guidelines, there are frivolous requests for kayaking lessons. I request that there needs to be some clarification on what is appropriate. It does not seem to be recognized that after a divorce, the same money has to provide for two homes instead of one. Some erosion of living standards is inevitable and should be born by both parties, not just the father. The current rates are probably too high. Children now no longer get the "extras" from Dad because he simply cannot afford them.

(iv) We request that the tax write-off for child support be re-introduced.

6. THE PROBLEM OF ENFORCEMENT (To be submitted later)

 

The Problem for Implementation:

The writer recognizes that even the finest legislation will be less than optimal without a very careful implementation plan. We are aware that certain parties wish for no changes to be made to the legislation and will likely try to resist implementation of change. We therefore recommend that major change to the act NOT be undertaken without very detailed planning.

There will be great need for the following:

- a great deal of patience by all parties;

- increased tolerance of differing standards of parenting;

- a rapid, timely, fair, gender neutral and expert method to deal with accusations of child abuse and family violence;

- co-parenting education in the schools;

- monitoring of Provincial enforcement of Federal legislation;

- an ongoing legislative review mechanism with representation from a broad base of parties such as have been seen by the Committee. We believe the Divorce Act should be reviewed on a regular basis, perhaps every five years;

- national standards for Custody and Access Reports; and,

 

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- clear and strong enforcement of perjury, false accusations and access/co-parenting.

 

Bibliography:

Ajello, Robin, "A Child's best Interests", Georgia Straight, April 4 - 11, 1996 (A personal history of my own separation, false accusations of sexual abuse and subsequent abduction of my children).

American Psychological Association, "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings", American Psychologist, July 1994.

College of Psychologists of B.C., "Policy for the Conduct of Custody and Access reports", To be published July 1998.

Christensen, Dr. Ferrel, "The Big Half Truth and its Tragic Consequences".(speech made March, 1998, Vancouver, B.C.) Attached to Fathers For Equality PART II

Gove Inquiry (already tabled to the Committee)

Huntington, Dorothy S., Ph.D., "Parental Kidnapping: A New Form of Child Abuse", Unpublished article available from National Institute of Missing and Exploited Children (Attachment 6).

Kruk, Edward, Associate Professor of Social Work (UBC), "Access Denial, Parental Alienation, Parental Disengagement and the "Divorce Industry", The Mediator, # 55- Spring 1998.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "Family Abduction and What to do if Your Child is Abducted", January 1994, Arlington, Virginia (please contact them directly).

Ontario Psychological Foundation," Custody/Access Assessment Guidelines", Ontario 1988.

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Keith Harris - Personal History: 

He was born on February 25th, 1944 in Lincoln, U.K. He had a very stable family background. His father was a chartered accountant and mother a legal secretary. They had a happy marriage. He led the Aberdeen University Exploration Society's 1966 expedition to Kurdistan and was expedition leader with Minitrek Expeditions Ltd in 1968. Keith emigrated to Canada in 1969. He was married to Patricia Watson in 1986 and divorced in 1996. He is the father of two daughters, Charlotte 10 1/2 and Clare 8 and is a long term member of the YMCA.

 

Education:

1955-60 Colchester Royal Grammar School, U.K.

1963-65 " & N.E. Technical College, U.K.

1965-66 & 67-68 Aberdeen University

1971-72 Vanc. City College, Langara, Vancouver

1972-76 UBC Hons. BA Classics

1976-78 UBC MA Classics

1978-79 U of Texas - 1st yr of PhD. Classics

1979-81 UBC MBA

1982 Licensed Investment Dealer(stockbroker) - B.C.

1983-1990 Substantial completion of the CGA program

 

Career:

He has been employed by the provincial government since 1983 as a financial policy and procedures analyst to 1997 in the Ministries of Environment, Social Services and Finance & Corporate Relations. Currently he works as a senior analyst in investment accounting.

 

Membership in Organizations

Director, Victoria Mens Centre, 1998 and self-help counsellor for Fathers for Equality, 1994 - present.

Director, Victoria and District Cricket Association

Liaison Mid-week Cricket League

President Victoria Chapter, Financial Management Institute of Canada 1994-96

Chair, FMI of Canada National Workshop, May 1997, Victoria

 

File NO. 5939/25251 Victoria Registry

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