Saving Face (Time)!
This week the BC Government introduced proposed legislation which would potentially reform the face of family law in the province. One of the key changes would remove the concepts of custody, guardianship and access, and replace them with the term guardianship and parenting time respectively.
Regular readers of my blog, (and before that, my legal column “Under Appeal”), will know that I have long advocated substantive changes to family law legislation including the removal of such contentious, hot button issues, as custody.
However, as an experienced family law lawyer, do I believe these proposed changes; will have a significant impact on reducing litigation? Sadly, unlike several other family law experts reported in the media, I do not, for the following reasons.
Firstly, some context, there is no doubt that understanding and differentiating, the traditional terms, “custody” and “guardianship”, has long confused and confounded clients, lawyers ( including yours truly), and judges alike. Replacing these terms with the single term “guardianship” is a positive, simplifying step.
Furthermore, replacing the term “access” with the term “parenting time” is also a step in the right direction. The term “access” tends to stigmatize, and trivialize time, typically spent by the other parent, with any children.
Unfortunately, and disappointingly, nowhere does the legislation attempt to determine just how this “parenting time” is to be determined. As any family lawyer will invariably tell you, the failure to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement scheduling the children’s time with each parent triggers much bitter litigation.
What could the legislation have done to help settle the matter of “parenting time”? It could have simply stated that there is a presumption of equal parenting time, when there are two well meaning, loving, and responsible parents, which I believe describes the majority of separating parents. Of course, there would be exceptions to equal parenting time, in certain circumstances such as abuse, violence, and neglect by a parent
After all, as I always advise my own family law clients, when addressing children’s issues, what’s most important is not what you call the terms, but rather, determining what’s going to be your actual “face time” with your children.
By choosing to ignore this critically important issue the proposed legislation fails to give parents, lawyers, and judges, the help and guidance they need, when they most need it, with the ultimate losers being the children. Some change!