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Equal Shared Parenting

Family Law Reform and Equal Shared Parenting

-A heartfelt missive to Santa Claus from an outstanding equal parenting advocate

Here is a letter from prominent activist, Paulette MacDonald, to whom?  To Santa Claus of course.  I wanted to publish this before the holidays but alas…. better late than never.  Paulette hits the proverbial nails on the head when it comes to family law reform and in particular with respect to Equal Shared Parenting.  Sure this is longer than my usual blog post but this is certainly worth the extra moment or so to read……. and be inspired.   Thank you, Paulette.

Dear Santa,

My name is Paulette MacDonald, and I am a Family Law Reform Advocate in Canada and that came to be once I witnessed firsthand the devastation that occurs in the hands of our Family Law System. – And all I want for Christmas is legislative changes to the Divorce Act to reflect a presumption of equal parenting at the onset of divorce or separation in the absence of abuse, neglect, or violence. Tall order, I know but I’m confident together we can do it.

While I am extremely proud to be Canadian; I’m ashamed of our governments Family Law System, one that is profoundly broken and has been for decades – A System that was put in place to help families when they are most vulnerable going through divorce or separation and instead of helping them, it destroys them with its bias “winner-take-all” approach. According to Ontario’s former Chief Justice Warren Winkler, “family law is in a state of crisis. We see a system in disarray – one that is beyond tinkering and that needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up using new concepts and fresh ideas. In short, we see a need for fundamental change.”

That was in 2011 when Justice Winkler was advocating for; free court-based, mandatory mediation for family law litigants and in 2010 we had the release of the Law Commission of Ontario in-depth report on the family law system and the report deplores a system that can bankrupt litigants and routinely ignores the wishes and interests of children.

Sadly, our Governments Divorce Industry has grown to the size of the Auto Industry so Santa, you can imagine what we’re up against –

Santa, you’re probably thinking, didn’t we just reform the Divorce Act? And you would be right, we did.

Regrettably, Bill C-78 was not intended as the much-needed and overdue overhaul; instead, it was targeted as more of a legal housekeeping exercise. They changed the terms “custody and access” to parenting time and parenting responsibilities – they also made it so that family law lawyers must advise their clients that there are other options available such as mediation, arbitration, and parent coordinators (both of which were recommended in the For the Sake of the Children’s report in 1998) Not good enough by anyone’s standards, especially our children.

Bill C-78 represented the best opportunity in more than 20 years to make select changes in the Divorce Act to reflect the true best interests of children and their parents, which are demonstrably supported by Canadian Voters and backed by authoritative Social Science research. Unfortunately, vested interest groups wanted no part of that – why? Divorce is a Big Money Maker for all those involved with family courts, family law judges, lawyers, child protection agencies, etc.

Santa, here in Canada we have started a National Awareness Campaign in which we are meeting with legislators from coast to coast through our volunteers/constituents “For Our Children’s Ultimate Success” F.O.C.U.S. – Please help us recruit more volunteers and let them know, they can “Change the Political Landscape” with just One Hour of their time, and they can register here:

Equal parenting is in the best interest of the child. Equal parenting should be the starting point for judicial consideration – if both parents are deemed fit while the marriage/relationship is intact, then both parents should be deemed fit when the marriage/relationship ends. Social science informs us that children do much better with both parents. Conversely, children raised without both parents generally underachieve, are prone to more medical and social problems, and have significantly higher rates of incarceration- all at taxpayer expense.

Continuity of parental and family relationships to the maximum workable extent is what is in the best interest of the child. Hence, fit parents should not have to spend their life savings in family court simply to maintain a pre-existing relationship with their children as is all too often the case.

Equal parenting – is fully endorsed by social science research as the preferred child arrangement post-dissolution barring issues of abuse, neglect, or violence. In fact, 110 eminent researchers publicly endorsed this scientific conclusion in 2014. Moreover, in a 2018 special edition of the prestigious Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, a panel of social science experts went further by stating the scientific body of research was sufficiently powerful to now justify a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting.

Not only is equal parenting supported by science, but it is also overwhelmingly supported in many countries and jurisdictions according to polls, as is the case in Canada. In polls commissioned in 2007, 2009, 2017 and 2022 Canadians supported a presumption of equal parenting by a ratio of more than 6:1. Notably, this strong support was generally the same regardless of gender, age, geographical region or political affiliation. This is a non-partisan issue for Canadians.

In 1998, all parties endorsed the recommendations of the “For the Sake of the Children” Report” by the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access. Likewise, the Liberal government of the day commissioned a poll in 2002 which found Canadians supported equal parenting even then. The Conservative and Green Parties currently have shared parenting as part of their policies. Now is the time for the other parties to reaffirm their commitment to equal parenting as a non-partisan issue.

Santa as you know, detractors of equal parenting paint it as a parental rights issue on the erroneous assumption that parental and children’s rights are somehow mutually exclusive rather than overlapping.

This year’s Canadian public opinion poll results strongly indicate that children’s rights and parental rights are not mutually exclusive but complementary, oftentimes flip sides of the same coin, while recognizing the primacy of the child.

Social Science research and the public at large are telling us that they are indivisible. To treat them as disjoint is not only scientifically incorrect, it is openly disingenuous. Children’s best interests are served by having both parents actively involved while parental rights are satisfied by allowing fit parents to raise their children.

I conclude Santa by urging you to tell our Government to do what’s right, rather than what’s easy – tell them to be a voice for Canadian Children, Parents, and Grandparents and to amend the Divorce Act with presumptive equal parenting reflecting social science consensus and the long-standing wish of Canadians of all persuasions.

And please Santa, tell divorcing parents to take their revenge, anger, or control issues out on their therapist and not their ex-partner and tell them to love their children more than they hate their ex.

Thank you, Santa, and Merry Christmas!

Paulette MacDonald, Child and Family Advocate/Activist

For Our Children’s Ultimate Success

Representing Canada – Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP)
Member – Parental Alienation Study Group (PASG)
Panel Member – The Change for Children (TCFC)
Advisory Fellow – Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE)
Founder – Equal Shared Parenting-Working Group (ESP-WG)
Co-Founder – Parenting FOCUS (For Our Children’s Ultimate Success)

Attorney Gene C. Colman with person

Gene C. Colman with former Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, co-chair of the joint Senate-Commons Committee on Child Custody and Access which authored “For the Sake of the Children” Report

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