GLOBE AND MAIL
Tuesday, April 30, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A6
"Support model works, study says"
By ERIN ANDERSSEN
OTTAWA -- Canadian parents are turning less to the courts to settle their child-support squabbles since Ottawa imposed a new formula for payments, a report tabled yesterday by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says.
The guidelines, introduced in 1997 and reviewed this year, have generally reduced conflict, eased pressure on the courts and established a consistent calculation for support payments across the country, the department study found.
Mr. Cauchon also confirmed that he is not planning to make any decisions on Canada's custody and access laws until fall, after meeting with groups involved.
He said the changes could come in the form of new legislation, more resources for services such as mediation centres, or both.
"It may look quite simple from outside, but we have a variety of opinions from different groups," Mr. Cauchon said. "Being a new minister, I want to take the time to better understand the situation."
Fathers' groups, in particular, have been waiting for the Justice Department to respond to a parliamentary committee report on access and custody -- now three years old -- that recommended, for example, that the law be changed to reflect a shared parenting standard between mothers and fathers.
Women's groups had argued against the change, saying it could create difficult circumstances for women and children in violent situations.
In the meantime, Ottawa has conducted focus groups and cross-country consultations of its own on the controversial issue.
"This thing has been consulted to death," said Roger Gallaway, who co-chaired the committee on child custody and access. "It's been studied to death. [Mr. Cauchon] has to make a decision."
Among the findings of the five-year mandatory review:
Custody payments are generally higher since the guidelines came into force, in particular for lower-income families;
The number of child support cases under the Divorce Act that had to be settled in court decreased significantly in the two years after the introduction of the guidelines;
At least two-thirds of parents and lawyers surveyed agreed that the guidelines made the legal process more efficient;
The higher the income of the paying parent, the more likely he or she was to pay special expenses, such as child-care costs and extracurricular activities.
The provinces most likely to include special expenses are Ontario and Alberta.
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