The British Columbia government yesterday introduced a bill, the
Family Law Act, to reform British Columbia's family laws and
replace the 1978 statute, the Family Relations Act. The
Family Law Act, which is not expected to become law for
approximately one year, introduces significant changes. The
changes include reforms to process, parenting regimes, support and
property division as well as provisions designed to address family
violence and minimize inappropriate conduct. In general, the
Act emphasizes less adversarial resolution of issues by means
other than litigation, including through mediation,
arbitration, and negotiated agreements.
The Act also adopts a child centred approach intended to
better serve the children's best interests on marriage
breakdown, including by use of counselling and parenting
coordination services, and a focus on a child's entitlement
rather than parental rights. Old legal terminology such
as custody and access are replaced by terminology intended to
reflect the renewed focus on the child and minimizes conflict,
including language such as "parenting time" and
"parenting arrangements". The Act
also imposes rules to address proposed relocation of a
parent with a child, which is one of the most difficult child
related issues arising on marriage breakdown. The Family Law
Act includes a requirement to give 60 days'
notice of the proposed move to any other guardian
or persons with contact with the child, and imposes an
obligation to show reasonable arrangements to preserve
the children's relationship with the other parent as well as
good faith. The primary
principle governing child related issues remains the
best interests of the child.
Support obligations are also addressed in the proposed
legislation. While stepparents have child support
obligations, a natural parent has the primary
obligation. The child support obligation can terminate
for a child under the age of 19, where the child has voluntarily
ceased to be cared for by his or her parent, although the Act
requires examination of the circumstances giving rise to the
child's actions to ensure no parental
The Act significantly expands the legal rights of
unmarried people who qualify as spouses as defined in the
Act. The proposed Act defines a spouse to include
unmarried people who have lived in a marriage-like relationship for
more than 2 years. An unmarried spouse must seek
spousal support within 2 years of the date of
separation, which is a significant increase from the time
requirement in the existing law. In addition,
however, unmarried people who have had a child together have
the right to seek spousal support, even if they have not lived
together as spouses for 2 years.
Significantly, the proposed Act also provides for review of
spousal support payable to a legal or unmarried spouse, including
on a certain date or on occurrence of a specific event.
Termination of child support may in some instances lead to an
increased spousal support award. Conduct by either party may
impact the quantum or duration of spousal support, where the
conduct affects a spouse's need for support or
the capacity of a spouse to pay support. The Act also
provides for security for both spousal and child support
The Act also provides for issuance of protection orders where
violence or risk of violence exists, and the orders are enforceable
under the Criminal Code. The court is given other powers
intended to minimize inapporopriate conduct, such as posting of
bonds and other forms of security and to empower the court to
restrict or define the manner of communication.
The Act also proposes significant changes to division of
property between spouses in British Columbia. First, unmarried
spouses as well as legally married spouses will be entitled to
share in property on breakdown of the relationship. The
proposed property division regime exempts certain property from
division, including inheritances and assets brought into the
relationship. Assets to be shared on breakdown of the
relationship are defined as "family property" and the
default position is equal division, which equal division will
be departed from only where if it results in significant
unfairness. And, although the B.C. courts routinely took
debts into account, the new Act expressly provides for the sharing
of debts between spouses.
The proposed Act in some ways codifies existing case law but if
enacted as law, it also represents a significant change to many
aspects of family law in British Columbia in addition
to championing a new, less adversarial approach to resolution
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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