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.
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
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.
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
- 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
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
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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- enroll the children in expensive vocational activities to increase the amount of
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:
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
- 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
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,
1. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND A FATHER'S ROLE IN CHILD PROTECTION:
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
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
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.
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
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
4. PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS:
The American Psychological Association (op. cit. page 678) clearly states
that "....biases regarding age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion,
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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).
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.
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",
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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
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
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
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
VMC, Box 8082, Victoria B.C. V8W
3R7 -- Phone: 370-4MEN (370-4636) --- E-Mail: email@example.com