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Canadian Journal of Family Law. Volume 15, Number 1 (1998), p. 13-78.


child custody; gender equality; legal reform; public policy


In March 1993, the Department of Justice, Canada, published and circulated a public discussion paper on child custody and access. Building on the public responses generated by the 1993 paper and more recent public and political responses to the reform of federal child support law, the Department has been attempting to clarify its approach to developing reforms to the law and practice of custody and access. We have identified seven issues that are in need of further debate and consideration: (I) finalizing the basic objectives and principles of child custody law, (II) identifying the features of a child focused approach, (III) incorporating the need for certainty and the desire to minimize future litigation, (IV) developing a general policy encouraging optimal parental contact, (V) developing a legislative framework that protects children and their mothers from abuse and violence, (VI) developing an approach to deal with high-conflict child disputes, and (VII) exploring process issues. This discussion paper is organised around these seven issues. Throughout the discussion of these issues, we identify an additional theme that requires further examination and consideration in the discussions regarding the reform of child custody and access law, namely, addressing issues of gender equality.In this discussion paper we provide a preliminary examination of these issues. We canvass the possible justifications and criticisms of what appear to be the key parameters within which the legal reform of child custody and access is contemplated. Throughout this paper, we raise issues that we believe need further discussion and debate. We elaborate on the possible meanings and implications of these issues and raise specific questions that are urgently in need of further debate in the current public policy deliberations around the reform of child custody and access in Canada.

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