2007 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the December 14, 2007 issue of the National Post.
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Problematic in Pink
The Liberal Women’s Caucus—the 21 female
Liberal MPs headed
by Belinda Stronach—is attempting to woo women voters with its recently
released Pink Book, Volume II. The biggest headline-grabber of
policy prescriptions was that the Divorce Act should be
This suggestion may make the Liberals lose as many male votes as they
female votes. In fact, when the ramifications are explained to
women, they too may find the proposals repugnant enough to reject.
First, it said, let’s amend the Divorce Act to include “consideration of family violence in determining [child] custody.” Currently, the Divorce Act says that the court “shall take into consideration only the best interests of the child of the marriage as determined by reference to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child.” Additionally, “the court shall not take into consideration the past conduct of any person unless the conduct is relevant to the ability of that person to act as a parent of a child.”
Do the members of the Liberal Women’s Caucus
themselves the only people wise enough to know that spouses shouldn’t
each other, and that doing so might traumatize one’s kids or, at the
set a bad example for them? News flash:
lawyers and judges know this too. As a
family law practitioner for more than two decades, I have never seen
imagine any lawyer seriously objecting, or any judge ruling, that
evidence of a
parent’s violence towards other members of his or her household would
irrelevant in determining a child’s best interests.
Indeed, a database search reveals that
hear evidence regarding domestic violence during custody trials. One
So what harm would it do, the Liberal
Women’s Caucus might
argue, to specifically direct the court’s attention to domestic
courts are already considering it anyway?
The impact would be subtle, I believe, but nevertheless real and harmful. It would elevate domestic violence to a new level of prominence in the minds of custody-seeking parents and litigious lawyers. It would encourage over-anxious or vindictive spouses to make spurious or inflated claims, by providing a more perceptible reward for such fabrications.
False allegations of violence are already a
in family law. I have had numerous male
clients report that their wives had threatened to concoct tales of
to exaggerate minor incidents into something bigger.
Some women even attempt to provoke their
husbands into physical violence, taunting, “Go ahead, hit me,” as they
with phone in hand, eager to call police. There
are men who fabricate, too, but in my
experience, they are far fewer. Even men
who have been genuinely assaulted by their wives are often so mortified
experience that they prefer to conceal it.
Currently, Ontarians threaten to fabricate
tales of violence
most often for the purpose of getting their spouses to leave the house. That’s because
Warring wives learn at the first
consultation with their lawyers
that a history of violence would help get their husbands expelled from
house. Like everyone else, they’ve heard
about “zero tolerance” policing. They
know the instantaneous power of making the accusation, even if the
later stand up in court. Changing the Divorce Act’s custody provisions would
give them just one more reason to lie and exaggerate about domestic
It might also make judges feel obliged to give more weight to incidents of violence than they currently do, or more credence to tenuous stories of violence than they otherwise would.
The Liberal Women’s Caucus also proposes
subsection 16(10) of Divorce Act. This
provision currently requires the
court to give children “as much contact with each spouse as is
the [child’s] best interests”. In
deciding who gets custody, the court is required to consider the
each parent to facilitate the other parent’s contact with the child.
This section, in my view, is a powerful force for good. Who could reasonably object to the notion that children need abundant contact with both parents, especially after a divorce? Who could think it’s bad to encourage parent-child relationships? The Liberal Women’s Caucus, apparently.
Has it never occurred to them that their
become self-fulfilling prophecies?—that the more women treat men like
the more frustrated and belligerent towards women men will become?
Let’s hope this grandstanding, vote-seeking proposal backfires on its Liberal authors.
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December 16, 2007