Sweeping Family Law Reform in British Columbia
On November 14, 2011, Attorney General Shirley Bond introduced the Family Law Act (Bill 16) in the British Columbia Legislature for first reading. The bill repeals the Family Relations Act, which was introduced in 1978, and replaces it with the Family Law Act.
Assuming the bill becomes law, which seems a near inevitability given the government’s comfortable majority at present and the support expressed by the opposition, the Family Law Act will significantly reform the province’s laws relating to divorce, separation and child custody.
Among the many changes introduced by the new law, the Family Law Act aims to do the following:
- promote alternative dispute resolution in the family context to resolve disputes out of court;
- establish a comprehensive scheme to determine a child’s legal parents, including in situations where technology has been used to assist reproduction;
- ensure that the best interests of the child are the only consideration when resolving parenting disputes;
- emphasize responsibilities to children and promote cooperation by eliminating divisive terms, replacing the traditional terminology of "custody" and "access" with "guardianship", "parental responsibilities" and "contact with a child";
- allow planning for a parent’s incapacity, whereby a parent (“guardian”) may appoint a stand-by guardian to act in the event of his or her incapacity, or a testamentary guardian to act in the event of his or her death;
- extend rights and duties respecting property division to unmarried persons who qualify as spouses;
- align spousal support more closely with the Divorce Act (Canada) and eliminate parental support;
- allow orders and agreements for child support and spousal support to be made binding on a payor’s estate;
- recognize “family debts” are debts incurred during the relationship, or incurred to maintain family property after separation, and are presumptively shared equally between spouses; and
- create a new protection order for cases involving family violence, with any breach of the order treated as a criminal offence.
The Family Law Act could be passed into law as early as within the next two weeks, but is expected to take between 12 to 18 months to take effect. Given the interplay of the issues addressed by family lawyers and estate lawyers, our British Columbia colleagues will no doubt closely follow the integration of the new law into the province’s legal system.
Thanks for reading,
Saman M. Jaffery