The Divorce Act: Modernizing Family Law in Canada

Amendments to the Divorce Act: Modernizing Family Law in Canada!
Over the last couple of years, you may have seen comments or articles by the mainstream media or on social media regarding changes to family laws in Canada. On March 1, 2021, the Divorce Act[1] was amended to update and modernize Canada’s federal family laws with the hope of truly responding to families’ needs during a separation or divorce. Amendments to other various federal family law statutes will come in response. Canada’s federal family laws had not been substantially updated, or modernized, in more than 20 years. If you are going through, or have gone through, a divorce or separation, these changes might affect you.

While there are a variety of changes to Canada’s federal family laws, and changes that will trickle down and be adopted by Saskatchewan’s provincial family laws, the following are some of the main changes to  note.

  1. Continued promotion of the best interests of the child

If you have children and have gone through, or are going through, a separation or divorce, you have likely heard the term “best interests of the child” used over and over by legal professionals. The Divorce Act amendments place further importance on the notion that the best interests of the child is of utmost importance when considering issues such as decision-making responsibility (custody), parenting time (access), and child support.

  1. Introduction of child-focused terminology

Common terms such as “custody” and “access” have been set aside and new terms have been adopted. The following terms and phrases are now used:

Prior Term/Phrase New Term/Phrase
Orders for custody and access Parenting orders
Custody Decision-making responsibilities
Access Parenting time
Access for a spouse Parenting time
Access for a non-spouse Contact
  1. Change of residence and relocation

If a parent with parenting time (access), wishes to relocate with or without a child, there is now a step-by-step process for that parent to complete in order to relocate.  Likewise, if a parent wishes to oppose the other parent’s relocation, a step-by-step process is outlined.

  1. Consideration for family violence

Prior to these amendments, Canada’s federal family laws did not consider the effect that family violence has on families. Family violence itself is now defined in the Divorce Act, and is considered to be any conduct including physical abuse, sexual abuse, threats to kill/harm any person, harassment/stalking, failure to provide the necessities of life, psychological abuse, financial abuse, threats to kill/harm an animal or damage property, and the actual killing/harming of an animal or damage to property. The abuse does not have to be a criminal act. Prior to making any parenting order (custody or access order), contact order, or child support order, courts must consider the existence of family violence, if applicable.

  1. Reducing poverty while simultaneously making Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient

In addition to considering family violence, the amendments consider the cost of going to court and enforcing orders. The amendments intend to provide various agencies with the ability to calculate ongoing child support and enforce child support orders. Provincial child support administrative services will be able to perform some tasks, such as determining ongoing child support and recalculating child support without the parties having to go to court.

Most notably, individuals will be required to attend a form of dispute resolution (e.g., mediation) prior to proceeding to court, unless extraordinary circumstances make dispute resolution inappropriate.

The Family Law Lawyers at W Law LLP are well-versed in Canada’s federal family law amendments and are prepared to advocate for you and your children’s rights amidst a separation or divorce. If you have any questions or would like additional information with respect to your particular situation, please contact one of our Family Law Lawyers.

[1] RSC, 1985, c 3 (2nd Supp) [“Divorce Act”].

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or accounting advice and does not create a solicitor-client relationship. W Law LLP does not make any guarantee about the accuracy or completeness of the information contained herein.