Custody and Access

Women remain the primary caregivers of children. Women are more likely to abandon professional and economic benefits in order to facilitate that relationship. When they separate or divorce, women are far more likely to end up in poverty than their former male partners. Women are often victims of spousal violence or abuse. Yet the legal system often ignores this reality. And without access to Legal Aid, women are unable to assert the rights that they do have.

Custody and Access Law Reform 1997- 2002

The federal government began a review of custody and access law in 1997. A Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access released its report, “For the Sake of the Children”, in December 1998.

Since the release of the 1998 Report, NAWL and other women’s equality-seeking organizations have been actively involved in the legislative reform process.

Bill C-22, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act, was introduced in December 2002. In the end, Bill C-22 died on the Order Paper in November 2003 and has not been re-introduced since

NAWL’s Briefs on Custody and Access

On a practical level, the issue of custody and access is often closely linked to that of child support. The 40% rule has proven especially problematic.

The 40% rule states that the Federal Guidelines amount of support does not apply to any parent who has custody of the children at least 40% of the time. This has led to abuse by men who seek to evade their child support responsibilities by fighting for joint custody of their children. The “fathers’ rights” lobby has mobilized in favour of a presumption of shared parenting.

The 40% rule is just one of the many issues of concern with current custody and access law

NAWL Brief "Not in the Best Interests of Women and Children - An Analysis of Bill 422: An Act to Amend the Divorce Act" (Bill 422) (2009)


NAWL Brief on the Act to Amend the Divorce Act
(Bill C-22) (July 2003)
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NAWL Brief to the Federal, Provincial, Territorial Family Law Committee on Custody, Access and Child Support (June 2001)
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Open Letters on Custody and Access

October 14, 2004
Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has recognized on more than one occasion that “women’s rights are human rights”. Yet he was ready to consider re-introducing Bill C-22 to amend the Divorce Act without any analysis whatsoever of the impact of proposed changes on women’s equality, security and other human rights. NAWL let him know why some aspects of Bill C-22 are problematic for women and children.

July 16, 2003
Bill C-22 proposed amendments to the Divorce Act that could have a huge impact on women’s lives as well as on those of their families. NAWL wrote to the Minister of Justice in French to let him know what we thought of Bill C-22. [Only available in French]

A similar letter was sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in English.

October 25, 2002
When the Minister of Justice announced his intention to introduce changes to the Divorce Act, he considered abandoning the concepts of custody and access in favour of notions such as “shared parenting” or “parental responsibility”. NAWL urged him to proceed with the utmost caution in his proposed reforms to family law in regards to the care and responsibility for children after divorce.

February 22, 2002
When the Minister of Justice envisioned the possibility of a statutory model of joint custody or “shared parental responsibility”, NAWL wrote to him to remind him of the reality of the situation. In spite of formal joint custody arrangements, many women soon end up caring for their children alone, without adequate child support. This is why a statutory model of joint custody can have negative consequences for women and children.
[Only available in French]

Jurisfemme Articles on Family Law

Fall 2004
“Women’s Voices in the Struggle for Family Law Legal Aid”, by Alison Brewin

Winter 2004
“Bill C-22: Where Now?”, by Pamela Cross

Winter 2004
“Common Law Relationships and Marital Property: Time for a Change?”, by Karen Busby

Winter 2004
“Disability and Family Law”, by Jean Pauls

Winter 2004
“Race(ing) Family Law?: The Challenges”, by Zara Suleman

Winter 2004
“Legal Aid in Nova Scotia”, by Pamela Rubin

Fall 2003
“Bill C-22: Update”, by Pamela Cross

Summer 2003
“An Update on Bill C-22”, by Andrée Côté

Winter 2003
“From Custody and Access to Parental Responsibilities? What Does Bill C-22 Offer to Women and Children?”, by Susan B. Boyd

Winter 2003
Walsh v. Bona”, by Lara J. Morris

Fall 2002
“Book Review: Child Custody, Law and Women’s Work by Susan B. Boyd”, by Mary Jane Mossman

Fall 2002
“Where is the Government Going on Custody and Access?”, by Andrée Côté

Summer 2002
W(h)ither Motherhood, W(h)ither Feminism: Child Custody Law Reform”, by Susan B. Boyd (speaking notes)

Summer 2002
“Minority Women, Family Law and the State”, by Merav Shmueli (speaking notes)

Summer 2002
“Custody and Access Alert”, by Andrée Côté

Spring/Summer 2001
“Lessons Learned from Family Law - The Proposed Presumption in Favour of Shared Parenting”, by Martha McCarthy

Spring/Summer 2001
“In Whose Best Interests? Proposed Changes to Custody and Access”, by Pamela Cross

Winter 2001
“Custody and Access Project in Ontario”, by Marsha Sfeir