Last week, B.C.’s family law was modernized under the new Family Law Act. The Family Law Act replaces the Family Relations Act, which had been in place since 1979. Family life in our province has changed a lot since 1979, and the new law keeps pace with the changing times.
The act puts children at the centre of separation proceedings, making the best interests of the child the only requirement when making decisions about parenting arrangements. Under the new law, both parents will be guardians of the child after separation; terms like “custody” and “access” have been replaced with guardianship, parental responsibilities, and parenting time. The law promotes collaborative parenting, so that both parents share the responsibility of raising their child.
The act also encourages families that are going through separation or divorce to settle disputes outside of the court system where it is appropriate, which usually means better outcomes. The new law encourages the use of dispute resolution options like mediation and parenting co-ordination.
The new law also addresses what happens when common law couples, that is, couples who have been living together and perhaps even raising a family together but who are not married, break up. The new law guides the division of property for when this type of separation occurs, ensuring that both partners get a fair deal. Each person gets to keep what they brought into the relationship, as well as things like inheritances acquired while living together. Property or debt which the couple acquire while together are split between them when they separate.
This is just a brief overview of some of the changes coming through the new act. There are far too many changes for me to explain them all, but in order to help everyone understand them, our government has added a family justice section to the JusticeBC website; you can find this at www.JusticeBC.ca, where you can learn more about the new law.
Donna Barnett is the Liberal MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin.