Canada Explores the Interests of Children versus Equal Parenting

The Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke on Monday about equal parenting and children’s interests in divorce cases. In theory, kids do best when both parents are equally present in their lives. In other words, kids need mom and dad for optimal development and happiness. However, Justice Minister Nicholson added that kids’ interests should be the deciding factor in whether or not equal parenting was granted.

This strikes me as a slippery slope. How is a judge to decide what’s in a kid’s best interests? A judge doesn’t know the kids, doesn’t know the parents and doesn’t know what each respective home life would be like. Deciding custody and parenting rights based on something as ephemeral as ‘the kids’ best interests’ looks like an easy way to get into a bidding war between mom and dad.

Unfortunately, kids are often caught in the middle of messy divorces. It’s not fair, but kids may be asked to choose with whom they wish to live, or to be shuttled back and forth from one parent to another like so much baggage. This isn’t an easy life, but is it better than establishing ‘best interests’ and awarding sole custody to one parent?

In an ideal world, everyone would be friends and could deal amicably with a divorce. However, reality isn’t ideal, and sometimes it isn’t always possible to be amicable with a spouse after a long, messy shared history. Should one spouse be penalized because relations are less than cordial? Unfortunately, if this sort of attitude came to the United States, it’d be far too easy to penalize a spouse.

Women are traditionally seen as the primary caregivers for children, and often tend to play a bigger role in kids’ lives post-divorce. Many fathers feel that this is unfair, and want to have a more active role in kids’ lives. How would fathers feel if mothers could take it upon themselves to prove that ‘it’s in the kids’ best interests’ that the mother has joint custody and doesn’t share parenting responsibilities? Unfortunately, if a woman were feeling vindictive, it’d be far too easy to press this point with a court and penalize the husband for things that have nothing to do with the kids.

Hopefully this Canadian guideline won’t make it to the United States. In a world where it’s already difficult enough to settle a divorce and sort out custody, the last thing parents need is to add another shade of gray to an already challenging process.