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New BC Family Law Act

New Family Law Act in Effect March 18, 2013

On Nov. 23, 2011, a new family law bill was passed in the B.C. legislature. The Family Law Act will come fully into force on March 18, 2013, and will replace the current Family Relations Act.

The new Act places safety and best interests of children as the top priority when families are going through separation and divorce.

One of the most important changes in the new Act is the shift from rights-based approach to a responsibility-based approach in dealing with custody and access of children. The idea is to emphasize among separating parents that custody and access comes with parental responsibility which must be followed through, ant that it is not about “winning the fight” against the other party. The new Act also seeks to promote alternative dispute resolution.

The Highlights of this new Act (excerpts from the overview posted by Ministry of Justice - link to full article here) are outlined below:

Highlights of the Legislation:

Best Interests of the Child

The act makes the best interests of the child the only consideration when decisions affecting the child are made. The act expands the best interests of the child test to include:

• the history of care of the child;

• the impact of family violence on the child’s safety, security or well-being;

• the child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them; and

• any civil or criminal proceedings relevant to the child’s safety and well-being.

Settling Disputes Out of Court

The Family Law Act supports ways for parents to resolve family matters outside of the courtroom where appropriate, through agreements, mediation, parenting co-ordination and arbitration.

Addresses Family Violence

The act also increases the ability of the court to deal with family violence by:

• defining family violence;

• legislating risk factors considered in parenting cases involving violence; and

• making the safety of children a key goal of the best interests of the child test.

In addition, it creates a new type of order – a protection order – to replace the existing Family Relations Act restraining orders. Protection orders will limit contact and communication between family members where there is a safety risk.

To ensure there is a consistent and effective approach in cases where safety is at risk, breaches of protection orders under both the Family Law Act and the Child, Family and Community Services Act will be a criminal offence.

Time with a Child

The legislation helps ensure children have time with their parents by creating a range of remedies and tools for non-compliance that will ensure parents receive – and follow through on – parenting time they are given. These include participation in family dispute resolution or counselling; reimbursing expenses such as travel, child care, lost wages by the parent unable to have time with the child; and payment of a fine by the parent denying the time.

Property Division

The new Family Law Act reforms property division so that certain property, such as pre-relationship property and inheritances generally will not be divided up.

Family property now includes all property owned by one or both spouses at the date of separation unless the asset is excluded, in which case only the increase in the value of the asset during the relationship is divisible. Whether an asset is used for a family purpose will not be relevant in deciding if it is family property.

Property division applies to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who have lived in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.

Determining Parentage

The new Family Law Act establishes a much needed framework for determining a child’s legal parents, including where assisted reproduction is used.

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