FOCUS GROUPS ON FAMILY LAW ISSUES RELATED TO CUSTODY AND ACCESS

APPENDIX B: MODERATOR'S GUIDE

1) Introduction Prior to Group Discussion

  • a) Introduce self, and explain purpose of research: This research is being conducted on behalf of the federal government, specifically Justice Canada. As you probably know, there has been ongoing public debate on the issue of parenting arrangements for children after a separation or divorce. Justice Canada is looking at options or ways to reform the Divorce Act and specifically the sections related to parenting arrangements and how decisions should be made about children in the event of a separation and divorce. So, the purpose of the research is to explore people's thinking about issues like:

    For example:

    • What parenting arrangements do you feel would work best?
    • What are the most important considerations that judges should take into account about children when they make decisions about parenting arrangements after a divorce?
    • and so on.

    We are going to ask you to consider these types of issues and to discuss your views on them.

  • b) Explain individual review process: Before we start the actual discussion, we wanted to give each of you time to study the issues and to think about them. We've allowed approximately 45 minutes to do so.

    In thefolder in front of you (ASK PARTICIPANTS TO OPEN UP FOLDER), there are two broad aspects we would like you to consider. The first one is titled "Parental Arrangements Following Separation or Divorce." The second one is "How Can the Law Determine What Is 'In the Best Interests of the Child?'." Let's review what we are asking you to do in each one.

    MODERATOR WILL REVIEW CONTENTS OF THE TWO HAND-OUTS AND EXPLAIN GROUND RULES TO PARTICIPANTS:

    1. No talking to each other to ensure that each person gets a chance to organize their thoughts independently; there will be plenty of time during the discussion session that follows to share opinions/compare points of view.

    2. Regarding open-ended questions, use these to make notes to refer to during the discussion; don't worry about spelling, grammar or even whether anyone else can read the writing.

2) Introduction to Group Discussion

  • a) Review group discussion procedures
    • Role of moderator
    • No right or wrong answers
    • Confidentiality: names will not appear in reports
    • Audio-taping
    • Presence of observers
  • b) Participant self-introductions: first name, "sentence or two about what you're up to these days", including number and age of children and marital status.

3) Discussion of Different Views on Parental Arrangements Following Separation or Divorce

  • a) Here are some examples of different parenting arrangements following a separation or divorce. Please read through it, fill in the questions at the end, and then we'll discuss your views.
  • b) Pass out hand-out and give participants time to read it.
  • c) Do a count of how many people selected each of the 3 approaches.
  • d) Discuss reasons for choices starting with "not sure/it depends" and then moving to those with the least votes.
  • e) For "not sure/it depends", probe reasons and rationales

    For each approach probe:

    • What particular aspects of this approach to parenting arrangements do you support or like?
    • What aspects do you not support, dislike or have concerns about? Are there cases where this parenting arrangement would not be appropriate?
    • Is there anything confusing or unclear?
    • Is there any other information that is required?
  • f) Probe each of the following if necessary:

    • Approach #1: Custody and access

      • In general, does this suggest to you in any way that in this particular arrangement one parent would be a "winner" and the other parent would be a "loser"? Probe for reasons
      • Does the term "sole custody orders" suggest that one parent would have more or too much power over the other parent? Probe for reasons
    • Approach #2:

      • Do you feel this arrangement would work or not work if the parents do not get along?
  • g) On a flip chart write the following phrases:

    • Shared parenting
    • Parental responsibility
    • Parental authority

    For each one:

    • Based on what you understand from each of these terms, which one of the three approaches does it fit and why?
    • Why doesn't it fit the other(s)?
    • Is there anything confusing or unclear?

4) Discussion of "Best Interests of the Child"

  • a) Before discussing how each of you felt about the list of criteria you were asked to consider, I want to ask you a more general question. How many of you feel that "Best Interest of the Child" is a reasonable approach to take in determining parenting arrangements? Reasons why or why not
  • b) Do you have any concerns about this, i.e., the "Best Interest of the Child" as being the sole factor that would be taken into account by the courts in determining parenting arrangements? Probe for concerns and reasons

    Probe following, if necessary:

    • Is it how the criteria are written or stated, i.e., the words used?
    • Are there any criteria missing that you believe need to be included?
  • c) Using a flip chart take a count of how each criteria was allocated.

  • d) First thinking about the criteria that you put into the "Most Important" category, what are the main ideas or concepts that made you choose those particular criteria?

  • e) What are the main ideas or underlying concepts for the items that you put into the second most category , that is the "Quite Important" category?

  • f) What about those you put into the "Less Important" category -- what are the main ideas or concepts that made you choose those particular criteria?.

    Probe following, if necessary:

    • 3. The opinions and wishes expressed by the child

      In what situations or under what circumstances do you think it would be appropriate or not appropriate to consider the views of the child?

      What guidelines would you suggest be considered?

    • 9. A proven history of family violence

      What did you interpret or understand from the word "proven"? Probe as to whether this means a police record, a conviction, or other?

      What did you interpret or understand from the word "violence"? Does it include physical violence only? Does it include psychological violence?

      Do you agree or disagree with this? Why or why not?

    • 10. Ensuring that there is no preference in favour of either parent on the basis of that parent's gender

      Some people have said that this particular criteria is more about the parents rather than it is about the child. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?

      Should this item even be included on a list dealing with "Best interests of the child."

  • g) Regardless of what criteria are finally selected, do you think it would be useful or not useful to include such a list for judges to use in making their decisions about these issues? Why or why not?

THANK PARTICIPANTS FOR THEIR TIME

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