Post-Separation Visitation Disputes: Differential Interventions

BACKGROUND PAPER

(2001-FCY-6)

PROFESSIONAL AND PUBLIC CONCERN ABOUT THE CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

The large number of children affected by parental separation and/or divorce has attracted worldwide attention from the practice, research and policy communities concerned with the physical, emotional and academic sequelae of separation and/or divorce (Amato and Keith, 1991; Birnbaum and Radovanovic, 1999).

When the child support guidelines were introduced in Canada, and passed into law in 1997, a Special Joint Committee was appointed to look at custody and access issues related to the Divorce Act, 1985. The overall goal of this Committee was to examine ways to ensure more positive outcomes for children whose parents are separating and divorcing. Specifically, the committee's terms of reference outlined the following objectives:

That a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to examine and analyze issues relating to custody and access arrangements after separation and divorce, and in particular, to assess the need for a more child centered approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities and child-focussed parenting arrangements based on children's needs and best interests. (3)

The Committee made 48 recommendations. One significant recommendation addressed the need for a more child-centred collaborative approach in which children's views and opinions would be legally represented. The impetus for a more child-centred approach to family law was based on evidence from empirical research demonstrating that after divorce there was continued parental conflict, parental stress, and unpredictability in post-separation parenting arrangements, causing significant risks to the well-being of children (Emery, 1989; Johnston and Roseby, 1997; Kelly, 1997). Given the number of children involved in separation/divorce and the potential for negative long-term consequences, this represents a landmark effort on the part of Canada's Parliament to examine children's interests in a comprehensive manner.

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