Canada  

Family law changes coming

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled legislation Tuesday which, if passed, would introduce a number of changes to federal family laws — billed by the Liberal government as the first substantive update for the laws in 20 years. Five things to know:

Why now? Updating Canada's Divorce Act and other long-standing family laws may not have been a centrepiece of the Liberal election campaign in 2015, but Wilson-Raybould says it's been a personal commitment of hers for a while to heed the calls for Divorce Act reform, which have been echoing for decades. She says individuals and advocates alike have been calling on the government to bring the law up to "modern times."

Words matter. The bill proposes more "child-focused" language, which means replacing terms like "custody" and "access" — terms that have long been seen as fostering conflict between parents — with "parenting orders" and "parenting time." "Shared custody" is a phrase common in divorce-speak, Wilson-Raybould noted, but it's not always the goal if it's not in the best interest of the child.

Clear and present danger. The legislation being proposed by the Liberal government would also require courts to take family violence and other factors into account when deciding on parenting arrangements. Judges have long taken the risk of violence into account when making such decisions, of course; the legislation would codify a detailed list of factors for courts to take into consideration.

Taking take-home pay into account. In some cases, Bill C-78 would permit parties to make an application to the Canada Revenue Agency for more detailed income information when determining the appropriate amount for settlements both in and out of court, and when the time comes to enforce timely child support payments. Wilson-Raybould says her provincial and territorial counterparts have been asking the government to make such information more accessible in order to help in determining what sort of levels of child support are appropriate.

Think about the children. The proposed changes would include a list of factors that a court must consider when deciding what would be in the child's best interest, such as the physical, emotional and psychological safety and well-being of impacted kids. Other factors include the views of the children themselves, as well as their relationship with their parents, grandparents or others, as well as their linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage, including Indigenous heritage. The bill would also require parents to give notice in the event of a planned relocation, helping to ensure others responsible for the children can take steps to ensure such a move would be good for the kids.



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