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Examining child custody issues in Canada: Part Two

The family court system’s separation of a child and parent after a divorce can sometimes have devastating consequences.

Tom Matty knows first hand about the heart-wrenching effects of not being able to parent his own children. It’s been five months since he’s seen his three kids – and that’s not by choice. His ex-wife was given permission by the courts to move them to Thailand. So now Matty sits by his computer, hoping to see to his children the only way he can.

“What I have to do now is I go to my computer on weekend nights because they often go to the computer shop then,” he explains. “And I hope they go on Skype, and if they go on Skype, I’ll get a chance to see them and talk to them.”

Matty is trying to fight the judge’s decision, but believes the bigger issue that needs to be fought is a system that’s prejudiced against fathers.

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“A police officer pulls his gun and we say, ‘oh, you’ve suffered trauma, take some time off, relax, get over this.’ Yet, we take children away from the dads and the trauma is huge,” Matty says.

According to Dr. Edward Kruk, who’s conducted studies on the emotional and psychological effects fathers experience after being separated from their children, what Matty is going through is actually quite common. Dr. Kruk explains that some of the divorced fathers he’s studied experience a grief reaction after they are handed a non-custodial role by the courts.

“Today it’s almost more of a full scale post-traumatic reaction, where they’re unable to function in many key areas of their lives. It’s a significant loss for dads.”

The UBC professor adds that there is also ample research that shows a suicide epidemic among divorced fathers, linked directly to family court judgements that deprive them of day-to-day relationships with their children.

“It’s the absence of their children, it’s the loss of the father role, which is a core component of father’s identity, it’s all the constraints of the visiting relationship – all these factor into father’s depression and then eventual suicide in some cases,” he says.

The emotional trauma of being separated from a child is not exclusive to dads, though. Lisa Mackenzie was a non-custodial parent for seven years before recently being awarded joint custody. She still attends a support group.

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“Most of the people that I know have been bankrupted socially, emotionally, financially, spiritually, you name it,” she says. “You know, it breaks a person down step by step.”

Mackenzie adds that the best parent for a child is both parents. And she’s not alone.

Independent senator Anne Cools is a former social worker and a long-time advocate of shared parenting.

“I have observed that when children are caused to lose their parents and lose to that constant love and support the damage, the damage psychic injury that is inflicted upon them is of such a serious nature that it may very well take their entire lives to recover,” the senator says.

Statistics back up her observations: nearly 8 in 10 youth in prison, 7 in 10 high school drop-outs and 9 in 10 runaways do not have a father in their life. Research also shows children who are fatherless have higher levels of behavioural problems, depression, and are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

They’re statistics that many hope can one day be avoided by a transformed family court system, which gives more rights to fathers.

 With files from Slav Kornik, Global News 

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