An Act to amend the Divorce Act (equal parenting) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.


Maurice Vellacott  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of May 28, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Divorce Act to replace the concept of “custody orders” with that of “parenting orders”. It instructs judges, when making a parenting order, to apply the principle of equal parenting unless it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parental responsibility other than equally.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


May 28, 2014 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

November 26th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
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Brian Ludmer Advisory Counsel, Canadian Association for Equality

Thank you very much, and thanks for having me.

I'm a co-founder with Mr. Colman of Lawyers for Shared Parenting, and I'm here today on behalf of the Canadian Association for Equality.

In 2014, I participated in the drafting of Bill C-560. I was the one who came up with the operative language of a presumption, unless it could be established on evidence that the needs of the children would be substantially enhanced by a different parenting plan. That remains, in my view and the view of many you're hearing from, how to advance the best interests of children.

The fact of the matter is that adding a list of other criteria and continuing to hear about a unique and individualized approach in each case will subject the children of this country to a continuation of the litigious environment that results in the conflict that all the studies say is the principle damage to the children. They won't be damaged by equal parenting. They're damaged by the conflict over two parents, one of whom wishes to be the primary parent, hence the litigation, and the other one who is willing to share the child and co-parent.

In a sense, while you've heard from an organization representing 36,000 lawyers, you should hear from your constituents.

For over 20 years, public opinion poll after public opinion poll has reiterated that the Canadian public has a terrible experience with the current system, and that is on par with public opinion polls across North America. The current system does not work to advance the best interests of children. It says that's the goal, but in practice, if you're a family lawyer seeing what happens out there, the current system damages children. It forces parents to triangulate the children. It causes conflict. It is maintained at immense cost, billions and billions of dollars.

There is no science that substantiates that anybody, including a judge, can say that a particular parent should see the children 37.2% of the time. The only science...and I'll differ from Ms. Landau on this. Peer-reviewed journal research, very robust, almost indisputable, and ratified by experts from around the world, substantiates that the closer you get to two primary parents after separation, the better the outcome for children. That research is thorough and cannot be minimized on sample sizes. You have to see it yourself.

The committee is getting submissions from Professor Fabricius, who drafted Arizona's legislation, from Professor Kruk and from Professor Nielsen. The joint submission of which CAFE is a part also highlights some of the leading research.

The current system is built on a series of assumptions that don't play out in real life. It produces arbitrary results depending on what judge you get, what their background is, and the day. Are they young? Are they from an urban centre? Is your case being litigated in the countryside? Which province is your case being litigated in? Those produce arbitrary results that are contrary to the goals of the legislation.

The legislation is premised, and you can tell that from the presentations you've heard today, on all the facts getting before the court and a judge somehow having the ability, in a three-day trial or a four-day trial, to figure it out.

In practice, it's not what happens. Budgets are limited. Over half of family law litigants are self-represented. When people represent themselves against a lawyer, the true family saga will never make it to the judge. Judges themselves, when they are polled and when commissions and studies are done, say they also doubt about whether they're getting it right. There are no retrospective studies of families coming through the system to determine whether today's system is working or not. Look at child outcomes three years out or five years out. The only science that's there supports equal shared parenting.

In terms of public opinion, over half or close to half of families today will get separated, so you're talking over 10 million people who will be affected, and millions and millions of children. Their actual experience with today's system trumps the experience of 36,000 lawyers.

For 20 years the public has been telling us it's not working. You're either going through a separation yourself, or a sibling or a cousin or a best friend is. No one is satisfied with the current system.

The proposed changes in Bill C-78—the technical ones—are pretty good. You can't argue with a lot of the stuff that's there, but it was put forward as a means of advancing the best interests of children, and it fails to make any fundamental change. If you start with a system that's broken, because it's built on a series of failed assumptions, you can't rescue it with technical language. You have to try to understand the better way to do it.

If you have a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting.... Domestic violence issues live harmoniously today with the maximum contact principle. It doesn't stand in the way and doesn't impact on that. Same with equal shared parenting—it can live harmoniously with provisions designed to capture and separate situations where that's a concern, like alcoholism or absenteeism or a parent who is an investment banker travelling all the time.

Equal shared parenting is not for everyone, but it is for about 90% to 95% of the families who litigate. When you look at what they're asking for, they're close, but one wants to be the primary parent. We taxpayers of Canada are all paying for that. It's a very expensive system with no science to determine that it produces optimum results or even results that can justify the cost. The only science and the views of the public who live with the system.... The true experts are the public. They really don't like it and they don't like it right across North America.

There are currently proposals for equal shared parenting in at least half the States. Kentucky has introduced the first true rebuttable presumption of equal parenting. The public opinion polls and the experiences are great. Arizona had something similar about four or five years ago, and from all their polling and the results since, everybody's happy with it. Australia has been put forward as an example but maybe that's not the case. That's not what happened there. There was no problem with the equal parenting. There was a political dynamic.

No matter how you look at it, there's no meat, no evidence behind the objections to equal parenting, and there's so much for it. It will save our children from conflict, it will accord with the will of the public—that's why we're here—and it will fit the science.

I will have a printed presentation. It will be filed within the next day or two, and then I know it has to be translated, but I'll respect the time allotment today and any questions you have.

Shared ParentingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, these undersigned petitioners are drawing the attention of this House of Commons to the fact that children ordinarily thrive best when being raised by both parents, their father and their mother, even when those parents divorce, so the petitioners are calling on Parliament to amend the Divorce Act, as in my Bill C-560, to require equal shared parenting to be treated as the rebuttable presumption in custody decisions, except, of course, in cases of proven abuse or neglect.

Divorce ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 28th, 2014 / 4:10 p.m.
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Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition from some 900 residents of my constituency. The undersigned citizens of Canada call on Parliament to amend the Divorce Act as in MP Maurice Vellacott's bill, Bill C-560, to require that equal parenting be treated as the rebuttable presumption in custody decisions, except in the cases of proven neglect or abuse.

The House resumed from May 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-560, An Act to amend the Divorce Act (equal parenting) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
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Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have some concluding comments for this second reading stage of debate on Bill C-560. I look forward to this, and I look forward to speaking again, hopefully, if the bill gets to committee and passes at that stage, amended or intact, and then back to the House. However, it has been an interesting process.

Over the past several months, I have heard from Canadians from coast to coast, from every province, from la belle province all the way across to western Canada and British Columbia. Over the course of the past years, I have heard from thousands of people.

I will confess from the get-go that the bill is not from my creative imagination per se. Certainly, I have carried the banner over the years, but there are some significant groups in the country that are involved in this.

I want to credit and thank Lawyers for Shared Parenting, a very distinguished group of lawyers that works in collaborative law and sees that all of these different things we have tried in the past, such as mediation and various other things, really have not got to the heart of the problems that of the flawed family law system.

I also want to thank the National Parents Organization, Preserving the Bond Between Parents and Children.

I want to thank Leading Women for Shared Parenting for the very considerable job it has done, and the number of its distinguished women across our country and the world grows every day.

Most of all, I want to thank the Canadian Equal Parenting Council, a very broad umbrella group comprised of 35 to 40 groups across the country that all have their own individual chapters. There is a sizeable number of people represented within these groups.

As well, I want to thank the many researchers with whom I have had the privilege to be in touch. They have weighed in on this, provided input and so on. Certainly, they will be prepared to come to committee. They are from Canada and abroad. A large consensus paper was recently written by a bunch of these individuals who have the intellectual heft on the social science kind of research that is being done.

This is coming at us in an avalanche. We are now beginning to better understand what the best interests of children are, adding already to those different criteria and parameters in the courts across the provinces.

Particularly, children want to love and be loved by both parents. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child talks about that very necessary thing.

Long-time supporters of the New Democratic Party, Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, from every region across the country, have been calling their elected representatives to stand up for the best interest of Canada's children in a divorce by voting in favour of Bill C-560.

I want to make the point that, resoundingly, across party lines, across the entire country, a number of polls over the last years show support at 80% and upwards, or just hovering at about 79%, in all provinces by all parties represented in the House and by both genders. In fact, it is about 80% in support from men and about 1% or 2% more for women.

Members may ask why women even more than men are supportive of this equal shared parenting bill or this concept. It is because those men and women may marry again or have another partner. The issue of children having access to them consumes them and creates different dynamics in those relationships as well.

In fact, the current adversarial litigation system of settling child-related disputes is focused on parental rights. It is about winning the boat, the car, the house and the battle over the children. The present system is focused on the rights of the parents, whereas this bill is focused on the rights of the children. It would actually foster settlements, reduce the litigation and so on in the best interest of children.

We have had the discussion about the myth of the fifty-fifty. It is actually in the 35% to 50% range. We have talked about how this is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution. There are variations and arrangements that could be made. This is to drive it to the best interest of children so they have access to both mom and dad, aside from abuse or neglect.

I would encourage my colleagues to read some of the good material that has been sent to them. Read the bill itself, and not what the Canadian Bar Association is saying about the bill. Read the myths and fact document that has been circulated to members.

Please help me to get this to committee where it can be looked at for further amendments or adjustments, so we do the right thing in the best interests of children in the days ahead by way of passing the bill.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 7:15 p.m.
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Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking in support of Bill C-560, which is the bill to amend the Divorce Act to make equal shared parenting arrangements for children following the divorce of their parents, except in proven cases of abuse or neglect.

I must admit that when this bill was first tabled and started to get some public attention and I started to pay attention to it, I was a bit surprised to see how controversial it became. I expected that most people would be in favour of it. That is part of the reason we have debate. It is because sometimes assumptions are challenged. I will say that the arguments against the bill seem as sincere as the arguments in favour of it.

I do not want to say anything about the intent of people who disagree with me on this bill. However, I will say that at home, when I have the occasional constituent come to talk to me about divorce law and family law problems, without exception, the problems have been fathers feeling that they are not getting fair representation through the courts and that the whole system is stacked against fathers having access to their children.

I want to make very clear that my support for this bill is not about preserving fathers' rights. It is not about mothers' rights. It is about the children's rights. It is not just about their rights but about the good of the children. When we talk about the good of the children, sometimes I wonder why we always say, “it is for the good of the children”. Why do children get this emphasis that other human beings do not get? It is not that children are more important. It is that children have not done anything to cause the grief they receive because of the mistakes adults make. Also, children just happen to be the people who will turn into adults who run the world, and if we have the children's best interests at heart and in mind, and we actually look after the children's best interests, by extension, we cannot fail in looking after the best interests of society as a whole.

Beyond children in and of themselves, when we have the best interests of families at heart and the best interests of families in our minds, we look after the interests of society, because family is the fundamental unit of society. When we do harm to the family, we cannot avoid doing harm to society. Decisions we make in this place, or any other place where we make decisions for all of society, must focus on children, and not just on children as individuals but on children as parts of families.

We live in a time when most men and boys are essentially fatherless. If men and boys are fatherless, so are the daughters. We live in a time when we lament violence against women, when we lament irresponsibility. Without fathers, we cannot teach our boys to treat women properly, and it is more difficult for daughters without their fathers to have a sense of who they are as well. Whatever the circumstances, when children do not have a father in the home, they find themselves on their own to figure out life, and they find out that it is a lonely place to be. They will often be ruled by their fears and anger and boredom, when lots of times all they seek is the affection of a father. There are many addictions that come from this fatherless place within them, a fundamental uncertainty in the core of their being.

In our art, our literature, our poems, our movies, our novels, there are so many written about children seeking out their parents, and in particular, their fathers. Lots of real life stories are about adopted children who at a certain age have an inner angst in their soul to find out who their parents are. They love their adopted parents and see them as their parents, but there is something inside of our souls that seeks to be connected with our fathers and our mothers.

The bill is in response to the fact that in today's current divorce law, it is fathers who are usually left out of the children's lives, and by extension, the children are left out of the fathers' lives.

What does fatherhood do? What does it teach people in general, kids in general? It is the new-found position as a requirement of the good life. It shows people how to fulfill duty. It binds us to other people in general. It binds us for real to a woman or to another adult. It is the only thing that still can do this.

Nowadays, marriage is instantly reversible and a negotiable contract, but fatherhood is not. Through this law, we will bring fathers closer to the hearts of the children and the children to the fathers.

The bill may not be perfect yet, but it is on the right track. We need to bring it to committee so we can examine it more closely. The concerns people have brought up about the bill can be addressed at committee. We cannot let it die at this point. We need to bring it to the next level. I encourage everyone in the House to vote in favour of the bill to bring it to committee.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 7:05 p.m.
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Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to a subject I feel strongly about, children’s rights. The bill currently being considered by the House poses a serious risk to the rights of Canadian children, which is why I would like to voice my opposition the current iteration of Bill C-560.

Bill C-560, as introduced by my colleague, the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, amends the Divorce Act by replacing the concept of custody orders with that of parenting orders. The legislation instructs judges, when making a parenting order, to apply the principle of equal parenting unless it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parental responsibility other than equally.

This change to the legislation, which may, at first glance, appear innocuous, has significant consequences for thousands of Canadian families that have to navigate the already difficult experience of divorce.

The main effect of the bill is that it gives priority to the best interests of parents, rather than of the child, when a parenting order is issued. However, in my opinion, it is absolutely essential that the criteria of the best interests of the child remain the primary consideration in decisions made by judges regarding custody.

In this regard, I stand squarely behind the opinion issued by the Quebec Bar Association, which publicly announced its opposition to Bill C-560. Allow me to read a couple of excerpts from the letter that the Bar Association sent to the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin. I completely agree with the opinion of Bar Association and, at the same time, remain hopeful that the member will bear in mind the expert opinion and jurisprudence on the issue.

In his letter, the president of the Quebec Bar Association expressed the following opinion:

The bill being studied was preceded by two other bills, introduced in 2009 and 2002, that also included the concepts of “parenting orders” and “parental responsibility”. The 2002 bill was the result of a Canada-wide reflection that lasted more than a decade.

In 2001, at the invitation of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Family Law Committee, the Barreau du Québec participated in this reflection and attended a conference on the subject.

A brief was prepared. The Canadian government's final report on custody and access and child support payments, entitled “Putting Children's Interest First”, along with Bill C-22, were the culmination of that extensive consultation. One of the most important conclusions that came out of the consultation concerned the rejection of all assumptions about child custody and the importance of maintaining the flexible criterion of the interest of the child along with the “friendly parent” and “maximum contact” principles. This conclusion was endorsed by the vast majority of those who participated in the consultation, which targeted numerous social and legal groups across Canada.

Bill C-560 proposes amendments that are contrary to the conclusions that came out of that 2001 consultation, particularly in relation to child custody. One of the legislator's objectives is to have the Divorce Act include, under the expression “equal parenting responsibility”, a presumption of joint parental authority and a presumption of shared custody.

Why does the bill disregard a decade of consultation? Why does it fail to take into account the opinion of experts?

The difficult experience of divorce and the issue of custody already place huge pressure on families and especially on children. However, the current bill would force judges to put the interests of the child second, behind the right of parents to equal custody.

This shift has serious consequences and may have an adverse effect on the healthy development of the child. Judges already consider the option of equal shared custody as the optimal solution for a divorced couple with a child, if indeed this option is in the best interests of the child.

What, therefore, is the point of this bill when the legislative tools at our disposal already provide us with the option of equal shared custody?

Canadian judges are competent and know what to do. In the face of ongoing family conflict, it is quite simply not in the interests of the child to be in a situation where the parents share equal custody. Moreover, where in this bill is the opinion of the child taken into account? Does it come second to the custody rights of parents?

Of course, the NDP will always stand up for gender equality, and the rights of fathers are just as important as the rights of mothers.

However, this bill misses the mark, since it in no way moves us in the direction of equality. Rather, it diminishes the rights of the child, and it is high time that the debate refocused on the real issue at hand: the best interests of the child.

It is also important to avoid relinquishing any legislative space to parents who, in the throes of divorce, often lack perspective and judgment. This vulnerability may cause one parent to use custody of the child to attack the other parent. Sometimes parents’ claims come from a selfish place rather than from a place of genuine concern for the best interests of the child. This must be avoided at all costs.

I will say it again: I share the opinion of the Barreau du Québec, which is that the best interests of the child must take precedence over any other consideration when it comes to custody rights.

I would also like to inform my colleagues that the opinion of the national family law section of the Canadian Bar Association is that Bill C-560 puts the rights of parents before the best interests of the child. The association further argues that:

Parenting is not about adults claiming rights…It is about the desire and ability to put children’s interests first.

The association goes on to say:

The bill is based on the faulty assumption that equal parenting time will work for all families, regardless of abilities, circumstances, needs, history, challenges or attitudes of all those involved...

In reality, the proposed change is clearly about promoting parents’ views of equality at the expense of the interests of children, who are affected by their parents’ separation.

I hope that my colleagues will also consider this expertise when it comes time to vote.

In closing, I would like to express my concern about two other aspects of the bill. First, this bill allows custody orders that have already been made by a judge to be changed. From what I understand, an application for judicial review can be submitted for any sole-custody orders, and the courts will now have to apply the presumption of shared custody. This gives a certain amount of retroactive power to change decisions that were already made in an appropriate manner in light of the facts presented to the judge.

Finally, there also seems to be a desire to rank a number of criteria that the judge must consider when rendering a decision. How can the child's opinion and family violence be ranked lower than maximum parental contact? That does not make any sense, and it represents a major setback in terms of child and family law when compared to the laws in most other western countries.

I would like to close by saying that when parents are more concerned about their children than themselves, they are more likely to forget their differences and their own interests and find a solution that works well for their family. The existing laws already offer the possibility of equal shared custody, if that solution is in the best interest of the child.

Rather than restricting the rights of children, I urge all my colleagues to think about more constructive solutions that will enable us to develop tools and provide families with the resources they need to deal with the painful transition of divorce. Parents who are better equipped will be able to minimize the negative effects of divorce on their children's development and well-being.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this evening on Bill C-560, although I must admit it is not a fun topic to deal with. Certainly, there have been all too many, usually young fathers, come to me in states of depression and desperation because they had been denied access or given very limited access to their child because of a divorce and a bad decision made by the courts and our justice system.

Bill C-560 would amend the Divorce Act to direct the courts to make equal shared parenting the presumptive arrangement for children following the divorce of their parents, except in proven cases of abuse or neglect. The key point of this legislation is that when parents divorce each other, they do not divorce their children. These amendments would keep both parents in the lives of more children in those cases where marriages break down. Bill C-560 would require parents to co-operate in establishing equal shared parenting unless they can make a credible compelling case that this would not be in the best interest of the child.

I have heard tonight many, mostly lawyers but not all, who have said that they favour a system where decisions are made based in the best interest of a child. Well, the simple truth is that a child having both parents is what is in the best interest of a child in most cases.

Far too often, cases are being decided by our courts that do not make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. I believe that the law is an ass, so to speak, in far too many cases.

I have seen the fallout of that, and it is not fun. There is nothing that wrenches at one's gut and strikes at the heart in a negative way more so than a parent, again, usually a young father, who is being denied access to his child for no good reason. It is not because they are any threat to the child, but it is because of a bad court decision. I believe that this legislation would make the outcome positive in far more cases.

Just over half of the number of divorcing couples today make their own arrangements for seeing their children without needing court intervention. For those who do need to use family courts, an equal shared parenting presumption would eliminate a key incentive for acrimonious conflict.

It is this conflict that breaks the heart, and breaks the will in many cases, and also makes lawyers rich. Of course, I would not be surprised if many lawyers did not support this legislation. I am not suggesting that all lawyers would oppose this just because they would be denied legal fees, I am not that crass, but certainly I believe that kind of thinking does come into things far too often.

Bill C-560 would foster settlements and reduce litigation due to the requirement that a parent seeking primary parent status must establish the best interest of the children, which means the focus under Bill C-560 is substantially enhanced by the disproportionate parenting time.

Studies have consistently shown that it is the very existence of custody litigation itself that causes the most harm to children. Bill C-560 focuses on the right of the child to know and to love two primary parents in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A marked drop in the use of litigation has been seen in Australia following recent equal parenting reforms in that country. This outcome was expected by advocates of equal parenting and runs counter to the scaremongering from opponents who falsely claim that equal shared parenting would produce great conflict among divorced parents and their children. That is simply not what has happened.

Another myth surrounding this bill is that it would impose a cookie-cutter, once-size-fits-all outcome on all divorcing families.

It would not do that. In fact, the opposite is true. The status quo is the cookie-cutter approach, with more than 75% of family court custody decisions being in favour of sole custody for the mother. That is a cookie-cutter approach. It is not a healthy one and it is not one that should be continued in this country.

We clearly see the de facto presumption in operation in today's family courts. Amending the Divorce Act to include a presumption of equal shared parenting, therefore, would not be a radical change to the current law. More importantly, it would be a change that replaces a parental rights framework for one that prioritizes the best interest of the child or children.

The current adversarial litigation system of settling child-related disputes is focused on parental rights. Parents are the ones represented by counsel and are the parties in the dispute. Each parent asserts that they are the better parent and are better able to meet the child's needs, and each parent defends against unfair or mistaken attacks on their parenting from the other parent. As a result, the courts are clogged with bitter, divisive, and financially devastating custody litigation between parents fighting over children like they are property.

I would also like to clarify that Bill C-560 would not impose the one-size-fits-all requirement of an exact 50-50 residential arrangement for the children of divorced parents at both parents' new homes. It would establish equal shared parenting as a starting point for parents and courts to use as they work toward a solution, typically in the range of 35% to 50% in residential access of the child to each parent, according to the unique circumstances of each family.

The international organization Leading Women for Shared Parenting reports that:

Research also proves that, although children want a relationship with both their parents regardless of marital status, healthy bonding with a...parent is impossible without a substantial amount of time spent in that parent’s physical presence.

That means very close to equal, again, in a 35% to 50% range for each parent.

Bill C-560 aims to implement selected best practices from other jurisdictions to encourage parents to make consensual decisions, to reduce conflict and costly legal battles, and to ensure that both parents have the option of equal time with their children, unless they are proven unfit. Equal time as a starting point in the divorce process means that both parents need not fear the arbitrary loss of their children.

I have got so much more that I want to say, but I see that my time is almost up. I will close by saying that we know, from the best social science research, a body of research that is growing every day, that ordinary children thrive most and produce the best outcomes when raised by both of their biological parents. This is what this bill is about. It could play a very important role indeed in helping to ensure that this is what happens, that the best rights of the child are considered and that it means, in most cases, near equal access to each of their parents. It is a result that is clearly, as I have said before, in the best interest of the child.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:40 p.m.
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Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak on Bill C-560, an act to amend the Divorce Act with regard to equal parenting and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

The preamble to the bill states a number of objectives, including that of encouraging divorcing parents to take more responsibility for their disputes with less reliance on the adversarial processes.

I would like to focus my remarks on the stated objective of the bill in order to demonstrate how this concept is consistent with our government's current approach to divorce and matrimonial settlements.

We all know that divorce is often a messy and drawn-out process in which both sides have deeply rooted resentments toward one another.

Unfortunately, at times divorce is unavoidable and happens quite frequently in our society. However, rather than turning to the courts and other adversarial processes to find a neat and tidy solution to an otherwise complex and messy situation, our government has taken the approach of encouraging and supporting both sides to find a mutually agreed upon resolution themselves.

In the context of separation and divorce, when parents are able to work together and put their children's needs and interests first, they provide a supportive environment for their children during an often challenging time. This is an important step in allowing these kids to achieve their full potential.

Working together and minimizing conflict are important and necessary goals for the approximately 70,000 married couples who divorce in Canada each year.

While the government cannot support Bill C-560, as it moves away from a strong focus on the best interests of the child, I thought it would be helpful to outline for my colleagues some of the ways in which this government is already promoting the goal of encouraging parents to take more responsibility for the resolution of their disputes.

First, this government contributes funding to a wide range of family justice services that have been shown to support co-operation and minimize conflict.

Second, this government has developed various publications to help families deal with divorce, including a booklet for children to help them understand and cope with their parents' divorce as well as a parenting guide and tools that encourage parents to co-operate with each other and that help them prepare a parenting plan that would best suit the needs of their children.

The phrase “family justice services” refers to all programs and services that meaningfully contribute to the resolution of family law issues. Those to which this government contributes funding include information and resource centres, alternative dispute resolution services, parent and child education programs, and services directed at high-conflict situations.

Here is a brief description of each type.

Information and resource centres offer free information on family law and court procedures. As a general rule, these centres do not give legal advice. However, they give out necessary information and documents, such as court forms, and provide some guidance on the steps in legal proceedings. They also refer families to legal and community resources to help meet their needs.

An alternative dispute resolution process that is widely funded by governments is mediation. A mediator is a neutral third party who helps the parents discuss issues on which they disagree. The mediator does not take sides, but may make suggestions to help the parents communicate better and reach an agreement. The mediator does not replace a lawyer.

Parent education and information programs are usually run by lawyers and social workers. They often work together to help parents understand and cope with the emotional effects of separation and divorce on themselves and their children, deal with some of the challenges of parenting after separation, and learn techniques for communicating better with each other, resolving disputes, and co-parenting. Some of these programs are also available on government websites and in other formats. This helps to make them more accessible to those living in remote areas.

Some provinces and territories have developed special education and counselling programs for children that help them cope emotionally with the breakdown of their family and understand that their parents' divorce is not their fault.

Finally, there are family justice services designed to help in situations in which there are concerns about the safety of children and the other parent. As a key example, service providers, generally with social work experience, supervise visits between a parent and a child, or they may supervise the transfer of a child from one parent to another when there is a high degree of conflict between the parents.

I would like to emphasize that these programs and services are developed and administered by the provinces and territories. As many members are aware, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments share constitutional responsibility for family law, and the administration of justice is a provincial/territorial responsibility. The federal government is responsible for divorce, including custody and support when dealt with as part of the divorce. In all other situations, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible for custody and support.

Since 1985, the federal government has provided funds to provinces and territories to develop and improve services and programs that assist separating and divorcing families. The current funding program entitled the “supporting families fund” has two objectives: one, to contribute to the continued improvement to access to the family justice system; and two, to encourage greater parental compliance with family obligations, notably support and parenting arrangements.

To fulfill these objectives, the fund was recently renewed for three years, until 2017, to provide $15.5 million per year to the provinces and territories for the delivery of family justice services to help parents resolve their issues and comply with their family obligations for the benefit of their children. The fund also provides $500,000 per year to non-governmental organizations to develop targeted family justice information and training resources. By helping to reduce conflict and increase co-operation between parents, these family justice services promote better outcomes for children.

The second way in which this government supports the goals of co-operation and minimizing conflict is to make available on the government website information and other tools that can help children cope with divorce and help parents develop parenting arrangements that respond to the needs of their children.

The government recognizes that children need information as well as adults and has developed What happens next?, a booklet for children between the ages of nine and twelve whose parents are separating or divorcing. It gives them basic explanations of key legal terms and also discusses the emotions they may be feeling. The children's calendar helps children keep track of their schedule and important dates as they move between houses.

The guide entitled Making plans gives parents information about issues they need to address when developing parenting arrangements, including a schedule for the time children will be under the care of each parent. It also suggests processes parents can use to agree on a plan, such as mediation, negotiation, and collaborative law, and provides tips on how to include their child's perspective. This guide promotes agreement between parents by emphasizing the importance of communicating, reducing conflict, and building a co-parenting relationship that focuses on the best interests of the child.

The parenting plan tool is a companion to Making plans. It is a practical guide with sample clauses to help parents develop a written parenting plan setting out their parenting arrangement.

Finally, the federal government worked with our colleagues in the provinces and territories to develop a parenting plan checklist to help parents identify issues to consider when developing a parenting plan.

The need for public legal education and information materials such as these, as well as for family justice services, is widely recognized. Recently, the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, a group broadly representative of leaders across Canada in the field of civil and family justice, and chaired by Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell, emphasized the value of front-end services, such as those family justice services funded by this government, especially those that include “live” help. It noted that:

It is widely recognized that the provision of services early in a dispute helps to minimize both the cost and duration of the dispute and thus to mitigate the possibility of protracted conflict and the corresponding harm to family relationships.

The committee was equally adamant that:

The more that families can effectively take responsibility for the resolution of their own disputes, the better.... This push towards family autonomy...[must be] balanced by a corresponding public obligation to ensure that these families are given appropriate help in doing so.

I want to reassure the House that we take that public obligation seriously. That is why I have taken the time to explain today some of the ways in which we are contributing to high-quality front-end services that support the many Canadian families experiencing family breakdown.

I have highlighted the supporting families fund and the development of public legal education and information materials. Further, the government will review the custody and access provisions of the Divorce Act and, in so doing, will consider how it can further encourage parents to rely less on adversarial processes and focus on the needs of their children.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:30 p.m.
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Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-560, an act to amend the Divorce Act in relation to equal parenting and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

My heart goes out to all those struggling through the breakup of a marriage, divorce, court cases for custody, and wanting more time with their children.

While I appreciate the terrible anguish of parents who want to spend more time with their children and the mover of the bill's intent—namely, to have two caring, engaged, and loving parents in children's lives—I believe the bill is fundamentally flawed in putting parental rights before the rights of children, the most precious and vulnerable among us.

The former Conservative minister of justice and Attorney General of Canada, in speaking to the Canadian Bar Association's annual conference in 2009 about equal parenting and the predecessor to this legislation, namely Bill C-422, stated that the best interests of the child are always paramount, and should be.

Bill C-560 was introduced by the member of Parliament for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin on December 12, 2013. This is not the first time the hon. member has introduced a bill regarding this matter.

The most significant changes that the bill would bring to the Divorce Act include the following: removing the current definition of custody from the Divorce Act and replacing it with parenting, defined as “the act of assuming the role of a parent to a child, including custody and all of the rights and responsibilities commonly and historically associated with the role of a parent”; creating a presumption that “allocating parenting time equally between the spouses is in the best interests of a child” and that “equal parental responsibility is in the best interests of a child”; adding factors that courts must consider in making custody orders; and altering the law on parental mobility.

The bill would represent a disservice both to children and to families by taking the focus away from children in favour of parental rights, detracting from the individual justice required by the Divorce Act, and promoting further and more fractious litigation.

The Divorce Act currently establishes that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in child custody cases. In other words, the rights of the parent are subordinate to the interests of the child. Bill C-560 seeks to weaken this in favour of the rights of the parents.

The best-interests-of-the-child test has been a fundamental part of most legislation relating to children for many years. It is used in federal legislation under the following acts: the Citizenship Act, the Divorce Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is also used in some provincial legislation dealing with matters such as adoption legislation; child protection legislation; and custody, access, and child support for unmarried couples.

Equal parenting as defined in the bill appears to have received support from some observers, particularly certain parents' groups, but so far it has not received much support from the legal community.

The Canadian Bar Association, or CBA, represents some 37,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students from across Canada. The CBA's mandate includes improvement in the law and the administration of justice. The CBA family law section includes family lawyers from every part of the country. They are collaborative arbitrators, litigators, mediators, parenting coordinators, and practitioners. Their clients include children, fathers, mothers, grandparents, step-parents, surrogates, and so on.

The CBA family section believes that any discussion of “parental rights” is misguided when resolving arrangements for children and that the sole focus must be what is best for children. The CBA therefore opposes Bill C-560, as it would shift the way custody is determined under the Divorce Act to parents' rights and away from what is in the best interests of children.

Lawyers assist all family members during what are often impossibly difficult times in restructuring their responsibilities and arrangements following separation and divorce. As a result, the CBA family section sees the issue from all sides. The CBA firmly believes that the only perspective to foster outcomes that are best for children is to require that the courts and parents focus solely on the children's interests in making decisions.

While the bill refers to equal parenting, it would not actually advance equality. Rather, it would change the primary focus in custody and access matters from what is best for children to equal parental rights.

“Parenting is not about adults claiming rights”, says Patricia Hebert of Edmonton, vice-chair of CBA's national family law section. “It is about the desire and ability to put children's interests first”.

She continues:

The bill is based on the faulty assumption that equal parenting time will work for all families, regardless of abilities, circumstances, needs, history, challenges or attitudes of all those involved. In reality, the proposed change is clearly about promoting parents' views of equality at the expense of the interests of children, who are affected by their parents' separation.

The CBA agrees that shared parenting is a good outcome for many families. Where equal time and responsibility can be shown to be in the best interests of children, judges can and do make that order under the current law, but the CBA understands that one size does not fit all.

The CBA objects to the proposed legislation, which says equal parenting time and responsibility must be ordered in every case. This would require judges to justify any other outcome by ruling that the best interests of the child would be “substantially enhanced” by a non-equal regime. This clearly makes children's interests a very low priority, which is contradictory to the stated goals of Canadian family laws as well as Canada's obligations under the Hague convention on the rights of the child.

Finally, I would like to bring forth questions asked by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Charlottetown, of the current Minister of Justice regarding Bill C-560 at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. My colleague asked:

A private member's bill is coming before the House, C-560, dealing with the Divorce Act. Back in 2009, your predecessor...indicated that the best interests of the child are always paramount. Given that this question is about to come before the House, what are your views on that, sir?

The Minister of Justice answered:

I can tell you, having practised some family law—as you have in Prince Edward Island—that the long-held legal maxim and the jurisprudence definitely supports that the best interests of the child will remain the primary concern. I see no change in that regard.

In closing, children must always be our primary concern. This legislation seeks to weaken that. This is not acceptable to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is not acceptable to the Canadian Bar Association. This is not acceptable to the present Minister of Justice or to the former Minister of Justice. This is why we will oppose the bill.

The House resumed from March 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-560, An Act to amend the Divorce Act (equal parenting) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:30 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

As the hon. member mentioned, he will have four minutes when the House resumes debate on this motion. It will not be today.

The time provided for the consideration of this item of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to Standing Order 30(7), the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill C-560 under private members' business.

Divorce ActStatements by Members

May 16th, 2014 / 11 a.m.
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Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, my private member's bill, Bill C-560, is about a child's best interests, about a child's right to two primary parents and equalizing that access. The current system is focused on parents' rights, not children's rights. Published decisions in our current adversarial system show a cookie cutter approach of making one parent a primary parent, and marginalizing the other to someone the children get to visit from time to time.

The legislation still on the books is three decades old. Social science research has conclusively revealed the need for children of divorce to have the significant involvement of both parents. Bill C-560 would provide that, while retaining sufficient judicial discretion for custom parenting plans.

A full response to questions raised about the bill is found in a myths and facts document already sent to all MPs and senators. I urge my colleagues to actually read that document.

The vast majority of the public, over 75%, support equal shared parenting. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to support Bill C-560 at second reading to get it to committee, to hear witnesses and leading researchers, and to make adjustments as necessary.

Our children deserve nothing less. Let us do it for the sake of the children, for the best interests of the children.

Divorce ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 1st, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
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Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from constituents in my riding, calling on the government to support Bill C-560.

Divorce ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

April 30th, 2014 / 3:15 p.m.
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Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this petition from individuals in my riding in support of private member's Bill C-560 for amendments to the Divorce Act.