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samedi 30 août 2003

Children of divorce need our protection

par Michele Landsberg, journaliste






Écrits d'Élaine Audet



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When I look at the very good fathers I know - fathers who are emotionally engaged, responsible and loving - I marvel that fatherhood is represented on the national scene and even in legislation by a tiny, shrill minority who are their polar opposites. Good fathers would no more go to war with their ex-partners, inflicting permanent emotional damage on their children, than they would embezzle from their bosses.

Alas, the amendments to the Divorce Act which will be put forward in the fall have been dangerously influenced by a very vociferous fringe of fathers’ rights activists and their overbearing friends in the Senate and Parliament. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon will introduce Bill C-22 to eliminate the supposedly enraging "custody and access" language in favour of "parental responsibility." It’s so vague. What will happen to the child support guidelines ? What about protection for women and children fleeing violence ? What about enforcement of court orders ?

These ill-defined "parenting plans" will have more people, not fewer, rushing to slug it out in court. That’s been the experience in England and Australia, which have similar laws. (John Eekelaar, The Law Quarterly Review ’96 ; Rhoades, Graycar and Harrison, "The Family Law Reform Act 1995, The First Three Years," University of Sydney, 2000).

Yes, you’re right, it’s weird to see academic-style footnotes in a column. But every time I write about this issue, the fathers’ rights vigilantes leap into action, snapping and yelping at the heels of the Star’s ombud, demanding proof of every statistic and cooking up stats of their own.

So here it is. Skip the rest of this column if you have no interest in divorce. The fathers’ rights activists have shrewdly thrown up a fog of misstatement, false "anecdotes" and outright lies designed to elicit public sympathy. The first whopper : "Every child has a right to two parents" and "Kids need fathers." Clever, that, to disguise father’s prerogatives as "children’s rights."

But there’s absolutely no scientific evidence for this statement. A loving father, of course, is a boon to any child. But just any old father ? A drunk, a batterer, a tyrant, an infantile male supremacist ? A man who stalks his ex-wife through the courts ? I don’t think so. The fathers’ rights version of "essential fatherhood" is all about authority, rules, strict discipline and imposed heterosexuality. Extrapolating from conditions in inner-city U.S. ghettoes, they freely declaim that "fatherlessness" is the cause of everything from delinquency to girls’ promiscuity.

In fact, sociologists have long documented the fact that a context of poverty and hopelessness leads to more single-parent families, and their ever-deepening poverty is what does the damage. (McLoyd, V.C., Socioeconomic Disadvantages and Child Development, American Psychologist ,1998).

Judith Wallerstein, a leading U.S. authority on the impact of divorce on children, concludes from a 25-year study that, "There is no research evidence that either the frequency or amount of contact between noncustodial parent and child is related to good outcome in the child." Lack of conflict, she has written, is far more important. (Family and Conciliation Courts Review, ’98)

Unfortunately, it’s practically a religion for angry fathers’ rightists to insist on mandatory joint custody. Yet all the evidence says that these are precisely the people who, for the sake of the children, must not have it. High-conflict couples with joint or shared custody are the very ones who subject the child to constant warfare. California pioneered the joint custody laws and then had to change them when the evidence of harm began to surface. Children of the angry minority suffered from depression, withdrawal, physical illness and social failure (Janet R. Johnston, Family and Conciliation Courts Review, Oct. ’95).

The best custody arrangements for this "special subpopulation," wrote Johnston, is "to allow parents to disengage from each other" - strict separation with clear, specific visitation plans and an absolute minimum of shared decision-making.

Does anyone else sense a car crash about to happen ? Under Cauchon’s "parenting responsibility" plan, the best-adjusted divorcing couples will do just what they’ve always done, work out sensible custody arrangements on their own.

Meanwhile, the batterers and control freaks will be thrown into the muddle of parenting plans. Mothers will end up with all the physical care of the children (even in so-called shared custody, the mothers end up doing all the custodial care ; N. Marcil-Gratton and C. Le Bourdais, National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, 1999) while the fathers will have unprecedented legalpower to meddle in decisions about every aspect of the child’s daily life. Fathers’ rightists insist, furiously, that all courts are biased and automatically grant custody to mothers.

In an official report of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1990, the researchers admitted that they began by sharing this perception about court bias in favour of women. They found the opposite to be true. (New England Law Review, Spring, 1990). Most women have physical custody of their children post-divorce - not because of bias, but through mutual parental agreement. When men do actually fight through the courts to get custody, they are awarded sole or joint custody more than 70 per cent of the time.

It has long been the same story in Canada. Back in the ’90s, senior Justice Department counsel Glenn Rivard twice confirmed for me that, although official statistics are a mess and cannot accurately reflect all family courts decisions across the country, it was his informed perspective that "when fathers seek custody, they win about 50 per cent of the time."

Maybe fathers are being bamboozled by their own propaganda.

Nor is it true, despite the hair-raising stories, that most mothers maliciously impede men’s access to their children. Access denial is a serious problem in only 2 to 5 per cent of cases (D. Perry, Calgary, Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, 1992).

The bigger problem is the erratic or totally absent father who disappoints his children by not using his access rights. More than 40 per cent of parents with access rights see their children rarely or never (Evaluation of the Divorce Act, Department of Justice 1990). And all those horrific "false allegations" of sexual abuse that supposedly destroyed so many men’s lives, and that fathers’ rightists were sobbing and screaming about at the notorious Joint Senate House Committee on Custody and Access ? Call it junk testimony. Widespread studies show that between 8 and 16 per cent of abuse allegations are false (Prof. Susan Penfold, Canadian Journal of Family Law ’97). Bitter custody disputes give rise to these allegations only 2 per cent of the time (Penfold).

Revealingly, 21 per cent of abuse allegations made by fathers are deliberate lies, but only 1.3 per cent of the allegations made by mothers are intentionally false. ( Nicholas Bala, Canadian Family Law Quarterly, ’99)

I have tonnes more statistics, but hey, I’m as sick of them as you are.

Nevertheless, we can’t risk harming children by allowing the government to bow to the unfounded claims made by the vengeful fathers’ rights lobby.

Toronto Star, July 27, 2003

Authorized reproduction by Michele Landsberg

Mis en ligne sur Sisyphe, le 30 août 2003


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Michele Landsberg, journaliste

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Michele Landsberg est columnist principalement dans The Star Saturday et le Sunday.



Plan-Liens Forum

  • > Children of divorce need our protection
    (1/2) 9 mai 2005 , par

  • > Children of divorce need our protection
    (2/2) 4 octobre 2003 , par





  • > Children of divorce need our protection
    9 mai 2005 , par   [retour au début des forums]

    Sensible article I am a British subject living in France and was married to a spanish control freak who continues to try and rule my life my son after years at the tender age of nearly wants no more control well no excessive tyrannic control and now wants to live with me till his father gets help but the father has decided not to give any maintenance towards his son even though he receives the family allowance the lawyer at the time was for me a weazel who wanted to make a name for himself in trying to show that fathers had rights in following the american way but did not look into the pyschollogical side I think that some lawyers should have their licences taken away for having partially destroyed the lovely childhood of kids for their greed maybe they need money to run around in big cars to make them feel great I personally blame some lawyers for this and think that it should be psys and good trained social carers who decide who gets custody or not thanks

    > Children of divorce need our protection
    4 octobre 2003 , par   [retour au début des forums]

    Although I do not speak French, I must respond to this article. I am in Colorado, US, and am in the middle of exactly what you are describing. However, this case involves actual child abuse, ignored and poorly handled cases with social services, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse of the father, and yet - he may be given custody of our 2 daughters - age 2 and 6. Supposedly, I am considered mentally unstable and guilty of parental alienation. Firstly, most domestic violence survivors exhibit trauma symptoms and fear-related anxiety, and secondly - I’m guilty of trying to protect my children from a monster who lives a dual life of church and community involvement to drugs, sex and alcohol. I don’t need to emphasize which one he is portraying to the court. Of course, the court is ignoring my older daughter’s reports of abuse and ongoing fear, and also ignoring 2 assault charges on my oldest son - his stepson, documented drug/alcohol abuse, several attempts at "treatment" - most he was thrown out of, past attempted kidnapping of daughter, attempted suicide - documented, animal abuse, etc. My daughters are forced to visit with supervised (soon to be changed), abuse is supposedly unsubstantiated, and oldest cannot sleep and exhibits noticeable behavioral problems - especially on visit days. If there is a way to stop this legislative action in your area - do so. If you know of any resources or contacts in this area to find ways of protecting myself and children, please contact me. Good luck with your plight.

    • Fathers Have Rights Also
      5 mai 2006 , par
        [retour au début des forums]

      One day my wife of 10 years woke up and told me that she loved me like a brother, not a husband. She said she was taking my three boys and moving back to her home country Germany. After some time apart she told me we should get back together again so I quit my good job and sold all my stuff and moved to germany where I was slapped with the divorce papers. I have visitation custody weekends. If you have ever tried to immigrate to germany with no job you will understand what I went through for 6 months trying to find work, get a work permit, etc. I returned to America where I now live and never get to see my three boys. They are never available if I call, they don’t have email (even though I sent them a PC), and I pay so much child support every month I cannot afford to fly to Europe and visit them. I am missing out on my children’s lives and it is costing me a fortune. All because our romance did not live up to expectations. My ex-wife has mistreated the children during their younger years by have bad boyfriends, locking them in their apartment while she went out evenings, and using them as leverage to scam the German government and myself. Get all of your facts straight before you choose sides or make general statements. Our current laws promote divorce and make it profitable for unhappy women to file for divorce. Father’s should automaticaly have 50% joint custody unless they can be proven to be unfit fathers (or at least less fit the the women’s new boyfriend will be) and no money should exchange hands. Stop making divorce a profitable business for women and I believe families will start staying together more. I can’t believe that all divorces (almost half of all marriages end this way) are based on abuse or human rights violations.

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