Canada’s shared parenting paralysis

Posted on August 20, 2012 by

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by Robert Whiston

Shared Parenting has Proven a Tortuous Road for Most

Canada has a long – if not longer – track record than Britain in trying to see the first flowering of shared parenting.

While Britain was wrestling with trying to simply get more contact time for fathers in the 2000 to 2002 period, Canada’s MPs had already published For The Sake Of The Children” (Dec 1998).

This was a report issued in by a Special Joint Committee of The Senate and The House of Commons of Canada addressing the issues relating to child custody and access to children after a relationship breakdown. [1] The report recommended ‘shared parenting’ as the norm.

Unfortunately, Canada’s Justice Minister at the time was Anne McLellan (1997–2002) and she made sure child custody reform was put on the back burner for years.

The Canadian report was remarkable in that its principal recommendation was that ‘shared parenting’ be presumed, at first instance, and to be regarded as the most appropriate relationship between a child and his or her parents after separation.

Left: Anne McLellan

Anne McLellan’s counterpart in Britain, Lord Falconer, had also torpedoed British attempts to achieve shared parenting by 2004 following the abortive and ‘tokenist’ talks to give fathers more ‘contact’ time in the years 2000 – 2002. This resulted in a walk-out from talks with government by all fathers groups (ref. above).

The excuse given then for doing nothing – and resurrected in 2012 – was that only 10% of British couples went to court to settle custody matters (ONS 2004), which is compete tosh. The logic being that the number was so small it was not worth legislating for.

Addendum: April 2013 – At last an academic voice has joined our contention that the 10% figure is a nonsense. In written evidence to the Children and Families bill committee, Prof. Parkinson (author of Australia shared parenting law reform) poured scorn on the claim in child custody matters that “Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements.”  In written evidence put before parliament he shows why it is wrong and unreliable (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739vw09.htm

This 10% figure has been cited extensively over the years and by Prof. Liz Trinder (and her inner circle of Jenn McIntosh), Peacey and Hunt (2008) and as far back as Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts (2004).  For a brief review of its importance and impact see also “Parkinson’s cavalry crushes Norgrove’s big guns” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/16-2/.

Political initiatives

Quebec has recently been linked to overtures in favour of shared parenting but many of the Dominion’s provinces have equally tried and failed.

For instance, in 2009, the North Territories (NWT), working with the Canadian Equal Parenting Council (CEPC) passed a shared parenting resolution but it was non-binding. Since then no further action has been seen in NWT.

The boldest attempt at introducing shared parenting into Canada was in 2009 by Saskatchewan MP, Maurice Vellacott. His was a Private Members Bill (PMB) drafted again in conjunction with the CEPC(Canadian Equal Parenting Council). It also died as a casualty of the 2011 general election (the current CEPC leadership is looking to introduce a simplified version in parliament circa 2013).

The heritage of shared parenting in Canada owes much to the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper which adopted Shared Parenting as part of its Policy Platform in about 2006. However, since that date and up till the present no action has been taken by any party to make it official government policy despite much lobbying of the Minister of Justice. See also https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/6/.

These apparent faltering steps toward shared parenting may be due in some small measure to the opposition expressed by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), and the Quebec Bar Association.

Prevarication

There are so many similarities between the Canadian and British sandbagging by civil servants and tactics used by government ministers that a separate article is called for. The apparent abhorrence by the establishment towards any bid to create fairness is an unnatural reaction and this must be construed as contrived.

The ‘head in the sand’ mentality and the resistance to move so a solution can be found, is amply demonstrated by the current farrago of Julian Assuage; America wants him to stand trial which could involve a life sentence; Australia is staying silent; Sweden won’t specify the charges and Britain won’t allow safe passage to an asylum seeker, etc, etc. The public – the ever trusting public – is only made aware of the ineptitude and true life incompetence of our rulers when ‘push comes to shove.’

Over the years, having been part of delegations negotiating with Whitehall Depts, I can attest to both their ineptitude and incompetence which has to be seen to be believed. There lurks an in-built phobia of anything new, anything they didn’t think of first and anything which they think they might not know how to control.

Such intellectual progress as was being made this year in Canada has suffered a setback of late with news from Denmark of it’s revising of its shared parenting laws. For those not familiar with Denmark’s regime it has had shared parenting since the 1980s and it has worked satisfactorily. Then in 2007 it decided to go one step further and in an idealistic way insist that all parenting regardless of their disposition and abilities should share child care 50/50.

In academic circles, one suspects, this has been used by critics who do not want to see shared parenting, ever (in any country), to put advocates in favour of shared parenting on the back foot.

Being able to cite Denmark’s ‘apparent’ reversal will trigger a new round of academic debate by those opposed to shared parenting and redraw the great divide. Effectively this will defer consensus and stifle any momentum. If Canada or its politicians had any plans to revisit shared parenting it won’t be anytime soon as these events will probably force Canada to drop it from the legislative agenda.

However, it is possible that both the opponents and campaigners for shared parenting misunderstand what is going on in Denmark’s itself.

Despite what Canadian critics say – usually from radical feminists – Denmark is still retaining shared parenting. It’s just that Danish politicians are not being bigoted about the ideology behind their preference – unlike the critics of shared patterning that insist on sticking with sole mother custody which is a proven failure by all measures all around the globe.

The Danes now recognise that their ‘idealistic’ utopian approach is not practical in some instances.

Denmark still retains shared parenting as it is recognised by public and politicians as the best possible system, but it wants also to develop and fine tune it further, hence the 2012 change.

The legacy thing

Let’s face it, all politicians want to leave their mark in history – who wants to be a footnote, or worse, totally overlooked when history comes to be written ?

Denmark and Danish politicians are no different to the rest of us (least of all the attractive minister for social affairs, Mette Frederiksen).

Building on a sound system the Danes in 2007 passed a law that pushed the boundaries of shared parenting one step further. The intention was to create beautiful and ideal Shangri-la where all parents would share parenting after separation and all parents would be competent.

Mette Frederiksen springs to mind since she was from 2005 to 2011 the spokeswoman on social affairs, on cultural affairs and on gender equality.

 Left: Mette Frederiksen (Social Democrat party)

After endorsing the changes contained in the 2007 Act she has now, in 2012, changed her position regarding the merits of the Parental Responsibility Act of 2007.

This is not to criticise her for flip-flopping but to acknowledge her honesty and pragmatism that when plans don’t quite work out as intended it would be foolish not to revisit and fine tune them. Unlike other western democracies where shared parenting has become a party political issue, Denmark unanimously voted in favour of the 2007 changes and again voted unanimously to amend it.

The 2007 Act optimistically assumed all parents were the same; that they shared certain norms’; were fully committed to their children and embraced the same collectivist approach  For 25 years it was “the left” in Scandinavia – unlike the Anglo-Saxon world – that pressured for shared parenting, so it is not surprising that eventually things went a bit too far.

Mai Heide Ottosen, senior researcher at SFI (the National Centre for Social Research), accurately targeted politicians when she said that although the intent of the 2007 law was:

  •  “. . . .  both beautiful and ideal, it has probably been too optimistic.”

And how many social projects and national objectives have been described in such terms over the decades ? Too many to recount.

The Parental Responsibility Act of 2007 was well formulated at the time but now, when cracks are appearing researchers must rightly articulate criticism. An opinion within Denmark is that the flaw in the 2007 Act is that it is a law that has hurt many children and destroyed childhood. But that is, one suspects, a gross exaggeration since the country like New Zealand – which also pioneers radical social reforms – has a population of only some 4 million and fine tuning (amendments) can be made before damage on a great scale can be achieved.

According to this same line of opinion the reason why the Parental Responsibility Act was in need of change in 2012 was because the Act wanted to improve the process of divorce for couples instead of legislating for how most divorce in fact actually happen, i.e. the actualities.A moot point perhaps.

The fatal step

Idealism and optimism lead the Danish legislature to ‘impose’ joint custody on parents. Careful reading of the critics of shared parenting, worldwide, always refer to it eventually as “forced” shared parenting while usually referring to it in short hand form as just shared parenting. Two very different propositions.

The 2007 Act was a law where divorcing parents had the type of custody arrangement foisted upon them – it was not their choice, indeed they we not allowed a choice. This rigid regime was allowed even if the hated the sight of one another and at the drop of a hat would launch into arguments.

Idealism overtook pragmatism in 2007. We all know no matter what country we live in that a certain small percentage of parents are not cut out to be parents, or are poor parents and/or are always metaphorically at one another’s throats. Many in this category are suffering a mental illness such as borderline personality disorder or are bi-polar or have drug and alcohol addiction etc. (see http://motoristmatters.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/31/ ). In London, for example, 60% of those families who pose a risk to themselves and others have ‘mental health issues.’ (see http://genderviolence.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/36/ and http://genderviolence.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/29/ ).

Pragmatism took until 2011 to kick-in in Denmark. Mette Frederiksen’s comment was that:

  • “We must recognise that there is a group of conflicting cases where it makes no sense to impose a joint parental responsibility.”

Communication

With the on-set of pragmatism, Frederiksen is reported to have commented that ‘we need to discuss this politically and how we handle it.”

Part of the answer comes from the National Centre for Social Research (SFI). It has published a new which concludes that people who get divorced do not talk and divorce because they find they are unable to talk to one another. So any change in the law is going to make no difference.

As one Danish commenter observed, ‘this is one conclusion you don’t need to have a research centre to come forward with.

For the most part, parents can get along reasonably well with one another after divorce, only a few are metaphorically at one another’s throats. By getting along satisfactorily implies a reasonable degree of good communication with one another. Dysfunctional families, by definition, do not have this skill but that is no reason at all to impede progress for other well-functioning families.

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[1] The Canadian Joint Committee was co-chaired by Senator Landon Pearson and Roger Gallaway MP.

References:

  1. 5 pct. af de 1-2-åriges fædre har ikke forældremyndighed” http://www.dst.dk/pukora/epub/Nyt/2009/NR501.pdf
  2. Blog site  Tak Mette Frederiksen — Lilleør by Kathrine Lilleør 2nd July 2011. http://kathrine.blogs.berlingske.dk/2011/07/02/tak-mette-frederiksen/
  3. “Danish custody law” https://www.retsinformation.dk/Forms/R0710.aspx?id=32014
  4. ‘Joint custody children fare better than other children of divorce’ By Ray Weaver, June 20, 2012  “So long as parents co-operate, children in shared custody arrangements can thrive, report finds http://www.cphpost.dk/news/national/joint-custody-children-fare-better-other-children-divorce
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