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Divorce Act Changes:  Cutting Out the “Winners” and “Losers”

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Divorce Act Changes:  Cutting Out the “Winners” and “Losers”

In a recent blog we talked about an Ontario Court of Appeal case called M. v. F.,  where Justice Benotto made some observations about the “win/lose” mentality of provincial child custody laws.  Specifically, she noted that:

“For over twenty years, multi-disciplinary professionals have been urging the courts to move away from the highly charged terminology of “custody” and “access.” These words denote that there are winners and losers when it comes to children. They promote an adversarial approach to parenting and do little to benefit the child. The danger of this “winner/loser syndrome” in child custody battles has long been recognized.”

That call-to-arms by Justice Benotto has finally been heeded by the federal government, in the form of upcoming changes to the Divorce Act. Those amendments, which are found in Bill C-78 but are not yet in force, have an unwieldy title:  “An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act”.

Although these Bill C-78 amendments implement a broad and ambitious range of changes to existing Family legislation, one of the more important ones is to replace the terms “custody” and “access” in the Divorce Act with more neutral terms like “parenting orders” and “contact orders”, respectively.  These newer concepts also give courts an embedded opportunity to give specific directions as to the care of children.

That revised Divorce Act wording also acknowledges the fact that family law academics – and judges like Justice Benotto in the M. v. F. case – have long encouraged this tweak to the terminology.  It eliminates the “winner/loser syndrome” she spoke of, as well as the unproductive mindset that the current custody regime fosters.  By allowing courts to grant orders for “parenting” and “contact” instead, the level of parental conflict will be reduced, and by extension, the best interests of children will be promoted.

As yet, there is no specific date announced for the implementation of the Divorce Act changes, but they are expected to be rolled out at some point in 2019.

Is this a promising development in the legislation around custody? Will it work in helping to reduce parental conflict, as hoped?  What are your thoughts?

For a copy of the legislative amendments to the Divorce Act, see here.

M v. F., 2015 

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.