Opposition to Shared Parenting in Canada Typically Weak, Dishonest

March 30, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

So, if there’s an equal parenting bill before a legislative body, that must mean those opposed to fathers having real relationships with their children are coming out of the woodwork to make their thoughts known. And, since there is such a bill – C-560 – before the Canadian Parliament, the anti-dad crowd in that country must be ginning up their propaganda apparatus. And so they are, here (Toronto Sun, 3/25/14). And that further must mean they’re dragging out the usual intellectually dishonest claims they always do when mothers’ hegemony over children’s well-being and fathers’ rights is threatened. And sure enough, the Sun op-ed author, family lawyer John Syrtash is Johnny on the spot, ready and willing to do his bit to keep fathers out of the lives of their kids.

In what must be counted an exceptional case of intellectual rigor, Syrtash actually waits until his fourth sentence before telling his first outright lie.

Columnist Barbara Kay recently championed this legislation in the National Post, claiming it will cure the problems in the family law system.

Uh, no, actually she didn’t. Indeed, anyone remotely familiar with Kay’s work knows that she’s far too scrupulous a writer and thinker to ever make such a statement. A fair précis of Kay’s article on C-560 is that (a) the Parliament should pass it, (b) because much social science demonstrates children benefit from shared parenting, (c) no social science indicates they benefit from losing a parent and (d) Canadians have known this since at least 1999 when a joint House and Senate committee recommended shared parenting as the default custody arrangements in divorce cases.

Needless to say, nowhere does Kay state or suggest in any way that C-560 would “cure the problems in the family law system.” Many of those problems will exist because divorce is fraught with conflict and hard feelings, and parents don’t always behave well or even rationally during the process. But what is essentially unquestionable is that a presumption of shared parenting would benefit children and reduce conflict between parents.

It’s because the social science on the issue is so well decided that Syrtash largely steers clear of it. Nowhere does he mention the voluminous work by hundreds of researchers all over the world that shows the many benefits to children, fathers and mothers of maintaining real relationships between children and both parents post-divorce.

And, if that enormous omission isn’t telling enough, the social science Syrtash does bring up establishes him once and for all as unserious about quelling the havoc wrought by current child custody practice in Canada. He reaches back seven years and around the world to Australia during its heyday of attacking the extremely modest gains made by fathers and children under the 2006 amendments to its Parenting Act. He cites one anti-father advocate, Helen Rhodes, who wrote a paper back then claiming children were being harmed by shared parenting. Her major source of information for the claim? Our old friend Jennifer McIntosh, who else?

Now, it may have been that, at the time Rhodes wrote her paper, no one knew just how badly done McIntosh’s work was. So we may let Rhodes off the hook, but this is 2014 and we know very well that McIntosh’s work was methodologically so shoddy as to be disqualified from serious consideration in any discussion of parenting and children’s welfare. Perhaps worse, McIntosh had a way of ignoring her own data when it didn’t suit her desired results. For its in-depth total destruction of McIntosh’s work, check out the recent analysis by Richard Warshak and 110 of his colleagues worldwide I wrote about here.

The bottom line on McIntosh is that her work was scandalously bad and didn’t even show what she claimed – that young children in shared care arrangements do slightly worse emotionally than do their peers with a single custodial parent. No one in the scientific community relies on McIntosh, but that doesn’t stop Syrtash from doing so. Hey, when you oppose something as clearly beneficial as shared parenting, you have to use what’s available, even if it is outdated, scientifically unsound, contradicted by the rest of social science on the issue and indeed its own data.

Perhaps sensing that what he’s brewing is pretty weak tea, Syrtash hastens to territory in which he feels a bit more comfortable – family law and court practice. There he fairs a little better, but only a little.

His main point about child custody decisions is that, even if C-560 is passed, nothing much will change. According to Syrtash, that’s because, “In the real world of the family courts, judges make decisions based on the facts of each case within the context of the law. They will continue making decisions based on those facts, far less than on “presumptions.”

Hmm. Syrtash claims to be a lawyer, and I’ll take him at his word. But the idea that the facts of a case will result in the same decision irrespective of whether or not there’s a presumption at work borders on basic ignorance. The simple fact is that C-560 would require judges to order substantially equal parenting time for both parents unless one was proven by competent evidence to be violent, abusive or otherwise unfit for the job. Most parents don’t even attempt to do that for the good reason that they have neither the evidence to prove unfitness nor the money to try.

Now it’s true that judges may, when faced with a presumption of equal parenting, simply nullify the law and hand the kids to Mom as usual. But of course that’s what appellate courts are for.

Besides, if Syrtash really believes that custody cases will be decided the same way, with or without passage of C-560, why’s he upset enough to pen an op-ed for the Sun? After all, if passage won’t make any difference, why does he care whether it passes or not? It’s beginning to look like even Syrtash doesn’t believe what he’s saying and has joined the rest of us.

That conclusion is reinforced by his utterly feckless citation of Section 20 of the Children’s Law Reform Act of the Province of Ontario. Syrtash pretends that law in some way establishes equal parenting via this clause:

Except as otherwise provided in this Part, the father and the mother of a child are equally entitled to custody of the child. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (1).

As every lawyer in the province – and countless others – knows, those words no more establish equal parenting than the man in the moon. “Equally entitled to custody” is not the same as “entitled to equal custody.” The former means that, in deciding custody, a judge must deem the claims thereto by fathers and mothers to be equal. Others, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. have lesser claims. Nothing about the statutory language prevents any judge from giving sole custody to either parent.

The latter phrase would mean equal parenting time and decision-making power.

If Syrtash is in fact a lawyer, he knows this.

What he likely also knows is that his claim that a presumption of equal parenting would make no change in the way judges order custody is supported by no evidence. The simple fact is that no one tracks outcomes in family courts, much less before and after shared parenting legislation. So about that, Syrtash is just imagining facts to fit his purposes.

Those purposes have more to do with keeping himself in a well-paying job than with benefiting children or their parents when divorce comes along. As I and many others have said, the main opponents of shared parenting are family lawyers. They do so because their pocketbooks expand in direct proportion to the amount of conflict generated in custody cases. Shared parenting has been shown to reduce conflict, so the response of family lawyers to the prospect of same is predictable and indeed, invariable.

John Syrtash has produced an intellectually bankrupt article that belongs, like current child custody law, in the dustbin of history.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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