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Canada's Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has weighed in on shared parenting, and he obviously doesn't understand the issue. From Kids' interests No.1 priority in divorce, justice minister says (Canwest News Service, 8/17/09):
The interests of children must take priority over a father's right to an equal parenting role after divorce, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said here Monday. Nicholson was responding to an emotional plea from a Canadian lawyer who, with the support of the Canadian Bar Association, urged Nicholson to reject a Conservative MP's private member's bill introduced in June that called for "equal shared" parenting. "Will you stand up for children and oppose this private member's bill?" asked Meg Shaw of Kelowna, B.C. Nicholson said the government hasn't taken a formal position on the bill introduced in June by Saskatchewan Tory MP Maurice Vellacott, but the minister made his personal position crystal clear. "I believe, and I think most people who have been involved in family law or studied this, that the best interests of the child are always paramount . . . and should be," he said, triggering applause from several hundred lawyers attending the CBA's annual meeting in Ireland's capital. Vellacott's bill, according to a news release issued by the MP, instructs judges "to apply the principle of equal shared parenting unless it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parental responsibility other than equally." The news release said research shows, "with limited exceptions," that "children generally demonstrate superior outcomes when both parents -- mom AND dad -- are actively involved in their children's lives, even if the parents divorce or separate." Liberal MP Brian Murphy, deputy chair of the House of Commons justice committee, and association president Guy Joubert both praised Nicholson for making his own views clear. Shaw, in her question, said Vellacott's bill "seems appealing," but said that experience in other jurisdictions shows that a shift in focus would mean children wouldn't be adequately protected.
Let's break it down piece by piece. The article says:
The interests of children must take priority over a father's right to an equal parenting role after divorce, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said here Monday.
This falsely juxtapositions children vs. fathers, when in reality in most cases the interests of children are protected and served by equal parenting and maximizing father-involvement after divorce. What courts and the law must do--and what they currently so often fail to do--is to protect children's right to have a relationship with both parents after divorce or separation. Are there exceptions? Of course. If dad (or mom) is a drug addict or a raging alcoholic, if dad (or mom) is mentally ill, physically abusive, or generally violent, then the other parent should get sole custody. And yes, there are times when the demands of dad's (or mom's) job make equal parenting unworkable. But these are exceptions--in general, kids do best when they spend roughly equal amounts of time with each parent, and when their right to a relationship with both parents is protected. One also wonders who it is who's supposed to determine what is in a child's best interests? Most fathers are perfectly capable of judging whether equal parenting is in their children's best interests. The article says:
Nicholson was responding to an emotional plea from a Canadian lawyer who, with the support of the Canadian Bar Association, urged Nicholson to reject a Conservative MP's private member's bill introduced in June that called for "equal shared" parenting. "Will you stand up for children and oppose this private member's bill?" asked Meg Shaw of Kelowna, B.C. "I believe, and I think most people who have been involved in family law or studied this, that the best interests of the child are always paramount . . . and should be," he said, triggering applause from several hundred lawyers attending the CBA's annual meeting in Ireland's capital.
There's a lot of anti-attorney sentiment within the fatherhood/shared parenting movement, and some of it is, quite frankly, way over the top. The system isn't as it is because of greedy attorneys (though they certainly contribute to the problem) and efforts at shared parenting don't die because of opposition from attorneys (though again they're certainly part of the problem). And there are many, many attorneys who have done great work to protect fathers' relationships with their children. However, it's hard not to look at this display and feel rather cynical about attorneys, as they applaud en masse for restricting or minimizing children's relationships with their fathers. The article says:
Vellacott's bill, according to a news release issued by the MP, instructs judges "to apply the principle of equal shared parenting unless it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parental responsibility other than equally."
I haven't read the bill but that seems pretty fair to me--have equally shared parenting unless there's a compelling reason not to.
The news release said research shows, "with limited exceptions," that "children generally demonstrate superior outcomes when both parents -- mom AND dad -- are actively involved in their children's lives, even if the parents divorce or separate."
Their reading of the research is correct--children do better in shared parenting arrangements after divorce or separation. I detail some of this research in my co-authored column HB 5267 Will Help Michigan"s Children of Divorce (Lansing State Journal, 5/28/06).

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