VICTORIA - March 18, 2013 will stand out in the history books as the day B.C.'s family law was modernized under the new Family Law Act.
Our society has changed since 1979, the year the former act that guided separation in B.C., the Family Relations Act, came into force. Separation, divorce and re-marriage are now common place. The number of common-law families in B.C. is growing at a rate four times faster than the number of married couples. There is a rise in the number of children born in B.C. using assisted reproduction.
The new family law meets the needs and changing nature of B.C. families. It will help them navigate significant changes and decisions in their lives, such as separation and divorce, and the division of property and parenting arrangements for children when couples split up.
The law is centred on the child's well-being and best interests. For example, the new Family Law Act makes it clear that parents must consider only the best interests of their children in making parenting arrangements after separation. The law is clear that, unless parenting arrangements protect the child's physical, psychological and emotional safety, they are not in the child's best interests.
To help British Columbians navigate the broad scope of changes to family law, the B.C. government has launched a family justice section of JusticeBC - www.JusticeBC.ca - which is a user-friendly website that provides helpful resources and answers frequently asked questions about B.C.'s justice system.
Throughout the rest of this week, the B.C. government is providing an information series of detailed bulletins focusing on highlights of the new Family Law Act, including family dispute resolution, property division, and guardianship and parenting arrangements.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond -
"The Family Law Act is about addressing the needs of modern B.C. families and adapting to shifts in society. Most importantly, it's about ensuring children's interests and safety are given the utmost priority when families go through the emotional process of separation and divorce."
"It is with immense pleasure that our government announces that this landmark legislation is officially in effect, confirming B.C.'s leadership in Canadian family justice reform. This is another important step our government has taken to modernize the justice system, aligning with the justice reform action plan's focus on out-of-court resolution and citizen-centred services."
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth -
"I welcome the implementation of the new Family Law Act. We have a fresh chance to build a system in the best interests of children and can now extend some stronger protections for vulnerable family members, such as mothers facing domestic violence and requiring the support of police and society for her safety and that of her children. I look forward to supporting this legislation and believe it will help us strengthen our system for children and families."
Kari Boyle, executive director of Mediate BC Society -
"The new Family Law Act represents a huge step forward for B.C. families by emphasizing resolution processes like mediation that are timely, affordable and supportive of ongoing relationships. While the court system remains as a strong last resort, the new act encourages families to participate in mediation and other "family dispute resolution" processes before using the court system. It sets high qualification standards for the professionals serving in these roles and Mediate BC's Roster Mediators exceed those standards."
Art Vertlieb, QC, president of the Law Society of British Columbia -
"The creation of the new Family Law Act has been a collaborative effort to make very positive changes, and the Law Society commends the government for its thorough consultation process. Family lawyers across B.C. stepped up and provided insight and input, and the Law Society was pleased to develop the new qualification standards for lawyers who act as arbitrators, mediators and parenting coordinators through its Family Law Task Force."
John-Paul Boyd, family law lawyer and director of the Peoples Law School, BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society and the Family Law Arbitrators Society -
"I believe the Family Law Act will better serve separating families. The law shifts the legal focus from the rights of parents to the needs and interests of children. I'm pleased that new family law also places a significant and appropriate emphasis on the importance of family dispute resolution options other than court, including collaborative settlement processes, parenting coordination and arbitration. This significant legislation is more in tune with modern B.C. families and their expectations."
- The Family Law Act was developed after consultations with more than 500 organizations, community groups, the legal community, other stakeholders and members of the public.
- The new law replaces the outdated Family Relations Act, which took effect in 1979.
- The new Family Law Act was passed unanimously in B.C.'s legislature on Nov. 23, 2011.
Information on B.C.'s new Family Law Act: http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/family-justice/
Legal Services Society family law information: http://familylaw.lss.bc.ca/
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Justice
778 679-8646 (cell)
Highlights of the new Family Law Act
The new family law:
- Puts children first by expressly stating that the best interests of the child must be the only consideration in making decisions involving the child.
- Supports ways for parents to resolve family matters outside of the courtroom, such as through mediation or parenting co-ordination.
- Creates tools to address family violence with a new protection order to help the courts more effectively deal with family violence situations - breaching a protection order is a Criminal Code offence.
- Helps ensure children have time with their parents by creating a range of remedies and tools for non-compliance with parenting time that will ensure parents receive - and follow through on - parenting time they are given.
- Makes British Columbia the first in Canada with relocation provisions to assist parents and the courts in resolving issues when a parent wishes to move with their child.
- Changes the language to describe parenting roles so it no longer promotes the view that there are winners and losers. Rather, the new law promotes a model that respects each parent's parenting role after separation.
- Clarifies how property is divided to improve fairness when couples, including common-law couples who have lived together for two years or more, break up. Certain types of property, such as pre-relationship property and inheritances, are excluded from the 50/50 division of property upon separation. Couples may opt out of the new rules and make different arrangements by agreement, if they choose.
Ministry of Justice
778 679-8646 (cell)