CTV News recently spotlighted the changes in Canada’s Divorce Act, interviewing the Luke’s Place Legal Director, Pamela Cross. Among other revisions, the new Act includes a definition of family violence as it relates to the best interests of the child.
From the article:
“We’re very unhappy with the way the language around decision-making responsibility is worded,” Cross told CTV News in a phone interview.
“In the old days, meaning before March 1 of this year, parents went to court and if they couldn’t resolve their situation themselves, courts made orders for custody and access, and usually the parent who the children were with most of the time had primary responsibility for making decisions,” Cross explained. “That language of custody and access does not exist in the new Divorce Act.”
Under the current Divorce Act, what used to be called a custody order has been replaced with the term “parenting order” and the term custody has also been replaced, to make a distinction between “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibility.”
Cross says that this could make for situations where decision-making responsibility is shared equally between parents.
“Where there’s a relatively equal power balance between the parents and when both of them are able to put the interests of their children ahead of how they might feel about their former spouse, shared decision making can be great for kids,” Cross says.
“There’s no doubt that children benefit from having more than one person responsible for making decisions about them,” she said, but added a caveat.
“However, where there is a situation of abuse, that’s not necessarily true […] the parent who’s been the abusive spouse is not often motivated by what’s in the best interest of the child.”
Cross notes the abusive partner may be motivated by their ongoing desire to maintain power and control over their former spouse. In such situations, she says a survivor of abuse may be accustomed to conceding to whatever their partner wants and that leaves the abusive person in a position where they can force decisions on the entire family that aren’t necessarily in children’s best interest.