Canada Proposes New Divorce & Child Custody Laws

Aug 8, 2012 by

The Canadian Province of British Columbia is proposing sweeping changes to existing laws on separation, divorce and child custody. A new Family Law Act will encourage out-of-court settlements instead of costly legal battles in front of a judge. The proposed changes are part of an overhaul of the 32-year old Family Relations Act, which the government intends to replace with a new Family Law Act early next year.

B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said that families who need a court’s help to settle a dispute over relationships, property or children will now have to show that they have at least discussed mediation or conflict resolution first. “Family law is built around a very adversarial mode. And we think there is a better way, when a family changes or a relationship comes apart to resolve some of those issues than rushing off to court immediately,” said de Jong.

One big change in the law will affect common-law couples who currently do not have to split their property when a relationship fails. Under the new proposal, unmarried couples who have lived together for at least two years, or who have children together, will have to split their assets and debts fairly under B.C.’s property division rules unless a separate written agreement has been created first.

The number of common-law relationships has been increasing faster than the number of marriages in the province, but they also end sooner. Currently, more than 40% of B.C. marriages fail to last 30 years. It is hoped mediation and out-of-court resolution will ease the strain on the legal system, as 25% of all litigation in the province is related to failed relationships.

The changes have been described as groundbreaking by local attorneys who note that people who previously did not get married because they didn’t want to have to deal with formal property settlements are now going to need those agreements. Being a common-law spouse will no longer protect what is divided upon separation. The proposals will exclude some pre-relationship and inheritance property but will evenly split any property and debt accrued during a relationship.

Critics of the new laws say that mediation will be costly and the government should help pay the costs if it expects people to settle their cases out of court. The Attorney General’s office has indicated it might have to reconsider the alignment of fiscal resources but has made no promise to fund public mediation services yet.


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