VMC Letter to the Minister of Justice regarding Implementation of the Recommendations of the Joint Senate/Commons Sub-Committee on Custody and Access
Victoria Men's Centre Soc.
Box 8082, Victoria, B.C.
May 2nd., 1999
Re: Implementation of the Recommendations of the Joint Senate/Commons Sub-Committee on Custody and Access
To: The Hon. Anne McLellan
I write to you as the wearer of three hats; as Chair of the 2 Parents by 2000 Committee, as President of the Victoria Mens Centre and lastly as a counselor over the past 4 5 years for fathers/families in distress in a group known as Fathers for Equality. I therefore speak on behalf of non-custodial parents, children, extended family members as well as custodial parents who are very concerned that their own children not suffer from the current Divorce Act.
We have dealt with hundreds of families labouring under the stresses of family breakup during the past years. Our conclusions, though lacking formal scientific data capture methodologies, have the ring of truth by their proximity to real people in crisis. We counsel with no government funding and are therefore relatively unknown to government circles. We did however put together a number of submissions to the Subcommittee and raised many concerns, most of which are reflected in the final report referred to above (particularly the submissions of David Campbell, Avi Tal and Harvey Maser). The following thoughts are also influenced by the many women, sisters, wives, aunts, grandparents who care enough for their brothers, nephews, etc to call us and ask for advice.
We judge the "Recommendations" to be the first serious attempt to deal with the real "problems" of family separation. With inclusion of both genders, a more balanced picture has emerged. We believe, in accord with the United Nations and the majority of the population of Canada, that children have a fundamental right to a parenting relationship with both parents. Too often, well meaning individuals have attempted to cure the "symptoms" of a problem; not surprisingly, the problems did not go away. Canadian society has reach a crossroads where one direction points to the elimination of the involvement of non-custodial parents, the other to a just, equitable route with greatly reduced tensions, where children have a chance to know and be parented by both their parents.
I attach a copy of our News Release of December 10th., 1998 which indicates very briefly our generally supportive response to the "Recommendations". We take this position partly on the ground that we believe family law is in major crisis. In particular we feel that an immediate review of Bill C-41 is absolutely paramount. At this point I would like to exhort you to implement not only the word of the "Recommendations", but also their spirit. Every recommendation is very thoughtful and necessary.
This is not the place to discuss every section of the Recommendations but I feel strongly that the statements concerning Bill C-41 (see Section 18) must be amplified. We, and many companion organizations around BC, are alarmed at the picture that has emerged over the past two years:
Some non-custodial parents (usually fathers) have had their relationship with their children almost completely destroyed by Bill C-41. Many can no longer afford accommodation for their families. For this reason some have given up access to their children entirely on the ground that they cannot afford to see their children. Others better positioned financially, may see their children regularly but in British Columbia many judges appear reluctant to permit the non-custodial parents to be full parents. By this I mean that "access" is limited to occasional weekends, with virtually no contact with children during school hours or with their teachers and the children's friends.
We also often see garnishment of 100% even of re-training allowances. We see parents struggling to finance a second family. I am sad to report that we are seeing a significant and increasing number of nervous breakdowns from these stresses. The new act and the accompanying instruments of enforcement can and are used as weapons of psychological abuse. We see working parents whose joint custodial relationship has been broken by the courts, awarded 39% of "access" (we prefer to call it parenting time), but who are left with only $600/month after support payments and alimony to provide accommodation, food, clothing and entertainment for their children. By miracles of household economy some of these people manage to maintain their relationship with their children.
We have seen near invalids, on disability pay, unable to persuade the Courts to have maintenance orders reduced in accord with their current income. We have seen the obligations for payment of family debt overridden by the "Guidelines" catapulting the non-custodial parent (usually the father) into almost immediate bankruptcy. The disposition of and maintenance of marital assets and liabilities usually are not taken into consideration on an interim order. These fathers are better called "beaten-dead" rather than a "dead beat".
We have seen second families subject to impossible strains because of Bill C-41.
The Joint Senate Commons Committee recognized that the child care expenses of the "access" parent are totally ignored. The Reform Party Dissension has documented that the actual need of support for individuals in each unique situation is ignored. Actual child care expenses, in reality, relate little to the time spent with family; rather they depend on the nature of the parenting relationship. Accommodation and clothing, the most expensive items, are required even for a single overnight visit per month to maintain an ongoing relationship with children. Frankly the premise that children must be maintained in their current lifestyle is noble but meaningless with today's high taxes and cost of living. One income can only support one household. Currently the caring non-custodial parent, if he/she has the funds, in effect pays twice for child support.
We believe a firm and noble step needs to be taken to implement these recommendations but that no delay should be permitted. I am sure you are aware that at least one Province, Alberta, is in the process of developing an Access Enforcement Act. We feel that the Federal Government should exercise its leadership to the Provinces in these matters. In fact from our several discussions with senior civil servants in the B.C. Government, they have also openly stated this. In particular we suggest that a wholly new approach be taken to parenting. It is long overdue that where both parents are working, both of their roles as parents be supported and fully recognized. Currently the only role for fathers after divorce is that of paying child support. We know from hundreds of personal contacts that in modern society fathers are now full parents in every sense of the word. This relationship must be supported and encouraged after divorce or separation too.
We recognize that there are many complicated issues to deal with. Some have convinced themselves that there are no problems with divorce and separation. We often have contact with parents who, when confronted with the many barriers ( I am thinking of access difficulties/legal and social indifference, etc.) that can be placed between them and their children simply give up. The emotional, financial and personal costs are too great. While we do not condone such decisions, the long term social costs of such a decision must be apparent to you .I am referring to teen problems with substance abuse, violence, and psychological problems to name but a few. Symptoms that have frequently been attributed to father-absence.
My colleagues and I therefore urge you to move ahead with courage and confidence believing that you have an opportunity to sow the seeds of a great new Canadian society. Should you choose to contact either myself or any of my associates, please have one of your staff call me at 250-652-3205.
Keith N. Harris, MA, MBA
cc: Hon. Glen Clark, Premier and Minister responsible for Youth