Divorce Act Changes in Force – At Last!
It’s been in abeyance for almost a year – and more than 20 years in the making before that – but the long-awaited changes to the Divorce Act are finally in force.
Back on June 21, 2019, the Canadian government passed Bill C-78. It contains a suite of broad and ambitious changes to existing federal legislation affecting Family law, most notably the Divorce Act provisions pertaining to parenting rights and obligations. They were slated to come into force last summer, but were deferred until now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At long last, the revisions specific to the Divorce Act are officially in force as of March 1, 2021 (with others to follow in stages).
The Bill C-78 amendments are wide-reaching, but they have a unified theme: Promoting the best interests of the child. Going forward, it’s a theme that will permeate the child-related arrangements between separating and divorcing parents, not to mention the court’s decision-making.
For example, the amendments implement ground-breaking changes to the Divorce Act’s nomenclature around parenting. It replaces the terms “custody” and “access” with more neutral terms like “parenting orders” and “contact orders”, respectively.
These changes are more than cosmetic: Courts will be able to impose tailored directions as to the care of a child while avoiding the former “winner/loser” approach that had been the subject of longstanding criticism for its combative and unproductive tenor. This means that the level of parental conflict should be reduced, which of course is better for the child as well.
Next, the amendments also give the Family courts clearer guidance on the factors to be considered when making orders of various types. For instance, when a court is called upon to consider the best interests of the child as part of making an order allocating parenting time as between the divorced parents, it must now consider a detailed list of express factors, including:
- The nature and depth of the child’s relationships with his or her parents, grandparents, and other important people in the child’s life;
- The child’s upbringing, including linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage; and
- The views and preference of the child.
The other changes brought in by Bill C-78 will be discussed in detail in an upcoming Blog, and cover important revisions to the law around topics such as:
- Mobility issues, involving parents or children who relocate after a divorce;
- Family violence, especially as it impacts a child’s wellbeing;
- Reducing poverty especially after divorce or separation, including measures to establish and enforce child support; and
- Making the Family justice system more efficient and accessible to the participants.