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Not all fathers are equal when it comes to separation rights in Quebec, says expert

Separation rights are not always equal according to one Quebec expert. (Pexels) Separation rights are not always equal according to one Quebec expert. (Pexels)
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Not all fathers are equal when it comes to asserting their rights during a separation, says an expert interviewed by The Canadian Press just days before Father's Day.

While some can afford to spend thousands of dollars to have a lawyer represent their interests, it's a different story for fathers who are poor or new to the country and unfamiliar with the workings of the Quebec legal system. It's a complex situation, said Sébastien Trudel, director of Development Support at Réseau Maisons Oxygène.

"If we're talking about disadvantage, was the father in good financial circumstances (at the time of separation)? And what financial precariousness does (the separation) subsequently bring? But we can also talk about any non-financial vulnerability the father had, such as psychosocial vulnerability, and what that might project him into," said Trudel.

Réseau Maisons Oxygène describes itself as "the only provincial grouping of organizations specializing in housing for fathers and their children in Quebec."

The network has around 20 addresses across the province, from Témiscamingue in the west to the North Shore in the east.

"While it's interesting to note that fathers are becoming more and more familiar with family mediation and are beginning to use legal aid more and more," said Trudel, "a father who doesn't have the knowledge and means to access resources can experience a double disadvantage.

"At that point, it's clear that the father is vulnerable to the law, to his rights, and that doesn't necessarily give him equal opportunities, just as it wouldn't give equal opportunities to the mother if she were in the same situation," he said.

There's still a lot of work to be done to make all the available resources known, he added, not only to the fathers themselves but also to all the social workers who may come into contact with them as part of various services, especially as fathers are less inclined than mothers to call on social services from the outset.

"Immigrant fathers may not know all the rules and laws that apply," said Trudel. "Add to that the language barrier. And if it was Mom who was taking care of all the formalities with the various authorities, and at the time of separation the father finds himself alone to take these steps, it can be complicated. He's just lost his partner, and it's hard to find your bearings."

On behalf of the Regroupement pour la valorisation de la paternité, Léger recently conducted a survey of 574 fathers who had experienced a separation in the last 10 years.

While most of the results are not very surprising, the survey did reveal that 64 per cent of fathers surveyed feel that the legal system is not well adapted to the realities and needs of fathers.

"That's why it's important to change and adapt the way we support men," said Trudel. "It's not enough to hand the father a card and tell him to call, especially if he has trouble understanding what's going on. And if he does call and gets a voicemail or a refusal, it could be a long time before he makes a second request."

Trudel also believes that there are also mechanisms that should be adapted to Quebec's reality.

He cites access to HLMs (non-profit housing programs) as an example.

They are offered to single fathers only if they have at least 40 per cent custody of their children, a threshold not reached by an underprivileged father who only sees them every other weekend.

Studies show that the vast majority of breakups are initiated by the woman, added Trudel. When the time comes to separate, the mother will be several steps ahead of the father, who will be starting from scratch since she has probably already been preparing for several months.

"The father has to grieve and reorganize at the same time," he said. "That's when you have to work with the father to make sure he can take all the necessary steps while looking at the emotional side of things."

This is why Réseau Maisons Oxygène set out to meet fathers on the ground, where they are, rather than waiting to receive calls, added Trudel.

"These are not men who like to consult," he concluded. "But when they come to consult, they tell us they should have come before, that it's less threatening than they imagined. We feel like we're taking a weight off their shoulders."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 15, 2024. 

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