Understanding BC’s Family Law ActApr 20 2017
BC’s Family Law Act replaced the previous family law legislation several years ago. The new Act recognizes a more contemporary family structure that’s reflective of shifting roles and responsibilities within society. A core principle of the Act is to ensure that all decisions are based on having a child’s best interests in mind at all times, including physical, mental and emotional well-being.
An important section of the Act focuses on dispute resolution between couples, which encourages cooperation rather than confrontation to better avoid costly and lengthy court battles.
- Dispute resolution can include mediation, negotiation, arbitration, collaborative law or parenting coordination.
- Resolutions are recognized as agreements (written contracts) and must be signed by both parties.
- Agreements can cover off parental responsibilities, child support, spousal support and division of property and debt.
The Act further defines guardianship, parental responsibilities, parenting time and parenting arrangements.
- A guardian is a person who is responsible for caring for and making decisions for a child.
- Parental responsibilities and parenting time fall under the scope of guardianship. Parental responsibilities include making decisions about education, health care, religious upbringing, living arrangements, etc. They can be shared between two guardians or assigned to just one.
- Parenting arrangements refer to an agreement or court order that outlines the scope of both the parenting responsibilities and parenting time.
Child support payments are mandatory. Child support must be paid by the parent with whom the children do not primarily live. Step-parents can also be required to pay child support. If a spouse cannot afford to make both child support payments and spousal support payments, then child support is a higher priority and is paid first.
Relocating to another community with a child is another issue that’s covered in the Family Law Act.
- Relocation is defined as a move that will have a significant impact on the child’s relationship with another guardian or person who has a significant role in his/her life.
- A guardian who wants to relocate must give 60 days’ notice. If the other guardian is not in favour of the relocation, they have 30 days to file an objection in court.
The Act also addresses the critical issue of family violence which is defined as physical or sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, forcible confinement or withholding the necessities of life.
- If a child or other person in the family is at risk, the courts can impose a family law protection order, which can restrict contact, prohibit visitation and/or prevent someone from owning a weapon.
- A request for such an order can be done so by the person at risk or by someone else on their behalf.
Included in the new Family Law Act are provisions for conduct orders and enforcement of court orders.
- Conduct orders are court orders that assist with managing the court process while moving to encourage dispute settlements. Orders can mandate that people attend counselling or dispute resolution sessions or restrict communication or contact between spouses.
- Conduct orders can also be case management orders to help manage case files and move them as efficiently as possible through the courts.
- All orders – with the exception of family law protection orders which are enforced by the police – are enforced by the courts in different ways, depending on the case and the circumstances.
When dealing with issues involving the Family Law Act, it’s recommended that you consider enlisting the services of experienced legal professionals who have significant knowledge and understanding of family law.
Guide to the New BC Family Law Act – Legal Services Society, British Columbia, 2012