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CHANGES TO FAMILY LAW RULES

Feb 4 2014

The Family Relations Act, which is the legislation governing separating spouses, including how property is divided between spouses, was replaced by a new Act, the Family Law Act on March 18, 2013.  The Family Law Act brings many changes to how separating spouses settle their disputes, particularly in how assets and debts are divided between spouses when a relationship breaks down.

The most radical change from the past legislation is that the law will apply the same to both married spouses and common law spouses.  To be a common law spouse, two people have to live together as a couple for two years.

The Family Law Act also states that property brought into a relationship is protected and will not be divided with your spouse; only the increase in the value of the asset during the course of the relationship will be divided equally with the other spouse.  Any assets purchased or obtained during the relationship will be divided equally between the spouses, without consideration of who contributed more in cash or labour.  All debt acquired during the relationship by either spouse will also be divided equally between the spouses.

Another major change is in how parenting relationships are governed.  The concepts of “custody” and “access” have been replaced with “parenting responsibilities” and “parenting time”.  There is a philosophy of equality among parents in the legislation in how parenting responsibilities and parenting time is shared between the parents.

Both parents are now automatically guardians of the child, and are entitled to both parenting responsibilities and parenting time, as long as both parents lived with the child before separation. Only a parent who has not lived with their child will not automatically be a guardian, but can become a guardian by agreement with the other guardian, or court order.  The court must consider only the best interests of the child when making decisions affecting the children.

Another change is that if you have not been living together for two years, so do not qualify as a common-law spouse, but you have a child together the new legislation will allow a parent to seek spousal support from the other parent.

If you have already settled issues with your former spouse through a signed separation agreement or court order, or your court action has already been commenced, the new Act will not apply to you; the previous Family Relations Act will continue to apply.  Separated spouses who have not commenced a court action, or signed a separation agreement before March, 2013 are governed by the new Act.

For more information about these changes and how they could affect you, contact RDM Lawyers to set up an appointment with a Family Law lawyer.

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