Big changes to the Divorce Act proposed
By Colette Fortin, Owner/Mediator Fairway Divorce Solutions Waterloo-Wellington
For the first time in 20 years, the Federal Government is proposing big changes to the Divorce Act with its primary goal of protecting children of divorce. Bill C-78 has been a long time coming. Mediators across the country have been advocating for these changes which will not only encourage families to seek alternatives to resolving family disputes such as mediation and arbitration but will also require family law professionals to inform and encourage their clients to seek alternatives to court. The bill will also make child support easier to resolve and change the language of custody and access to parenting responsibilities and parenting time. The entire bill has at its core protecting the best interest of the children. You can read more about the bill in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail: Federal government looks to put children first in Divorce Act overhaul
As a family mediator having helped over 250 couples sort out the details of their separation, I am very excited about these changes. I say it’s about time, as I have always been an advocate of how the language we use when speaking of separation shapes how we view this major life transition. As a former teacher, I witnessed first hand the good co-parenting situations and also the high conflict situations. It is not the separation that has a long-term impact on children’s emotional well-being, it’s how parents navigate through that process and children’s exposure to the conflict that does. In my A Guide for Divorcing Parents: How to help your children through separation and divorce, I speak of parenting time, child-focused schedules and provide scripts for how to talk to children.
I tell my clients all the time: nobody ‘has the children for March Break’ but rather the children will spend March Break with mom or dad. It is subtle, but language plays such an important part of how we view separation. Children are not a possession to be negotiated, but rather they have the right to a healthy happy relationship with both parents. Helping parents create a plan that fosters healthy relationships with both parents while ensuring the plan considers the needs of the children is precisely the focus of mediation. For some, it is an equal division of time, for others, it may be a blend. Creativity vs. an all or nothing win-lose is what this alternative provides. One family arrived at the conclusion their child needed to sleep in one home during school nights due to his learning difficulties, but that during the summer they would share time equally. This is an example of the creative process that mediation fosters.
It’s no secret the court process is long, expensive and does not allow for positive post-separation relationships between parents. With these proposed changes, this is a huge step in the right direction toward encouraging families to seek amicable alternatives. As mediators, we continue to spread the message that separation and divorce may be one of the most challenging transitions in your life, but it doesn’t have to define your life. Providing communication and conflict coaching to help parents manage their lives is an important part of this process. So many times we get caught up with the who did what to whom, and the reality for kids is, they didn’t ask for this, they certainly had nothing to do with this, so we need to protect them through this process.
I wholeheartedly believe there is a better way to move through separation. To find out more about mediation, contact us for a free consultation.