Ministry of Justice

Family Law Act

On Nov. 23, 2011, a new family law bill was passed in the B.C. legislature. The Family Law Act came fully into force on March 18, 2013, and replaced the Family Relations Act. The new act places the safety and best interests of the child first when families are going through separation and divorce. It also clarifies parental responsibilities and the division of assets if relationships break down, addresses family violence and encourages families to resolve their disputes out of court.

On Nov. 26, 2012, the regulations for the Family Law Act were passed. These regulations set minimum training and practice standards for family dispute resolution professionals (family mediators, parenting coordinators and family arbitrators), replace the regulations made under the Family Relations Act with respect to the Child Support Guidelines Regulation and the Child Support Recalculation Pilot Project Regulation and pension division.

Highlights of the Family Law Act

The Family Law Act makes the best interests of the child the only consideration when decisions affecting the child are made. The act expands the best interests of the child test to include:

  • the history of care of the child;
  • the impact of family violence on the child’s safety, security or well-being;
  • the child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them; and
  • any civil or criminal proceedings relevant to the child’s safety and well-being.

Settling Disputes Out of Court

The Family Law Act supports ways for parents to resolve family matters outside of the courtroom where appropriate, through agreements, mediation, parenting co-ordination and arbitration.

Addresses Family Violence

The act also increases the ability of the court to deal with family violence by:

  • defining family violence;
  • legislating risk factors considered in parenting cases involving violence; and
  • making the safety of children a key goal of the best interests of the child test.

In addition, it created a new type of order – a protection order – which replaced the old Family Relations Act restraining orders. Protection orders will limit contact and communication between family members where there is a safety risk.

To ensure there is a consistent and effective approach in cases where safety is at risk, breaches of protection orders under both the Family Law Act and the Child, Family and Community Services Act are now a criminal offence.

Time with a Child

The Family Law Act helps ensure children have time with their parents by creating a range of remedies and tools for non-compliance that will ensure parents receive – and follow through on – parenting time they are given. These include participation in family dispute resolution or counselling; reimbursing expenses such as travel, child care, lost wages by the parent unable to have time with the child; and payment of a fine by the parent denying the time.

Property Divisions

The new Family Law Act reforms property division so that certain property, such as pre-relationship property and inheritances generally will not be divided up.

Family property now includes all property owned by one or both spouses at the date of separation unless the asset is excluded, in which case only the increase in the value of the asset during the relationship is divisible. Whether an asset is used for a family purpose will not be relevant in deciding if it is family property.

Property division applies to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who have lived in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.

Determining Parentage

The new Family Law Act establishes a much needed framework for determining a child’s legal parents, including where assisted reproduction is used.

Amendments to Court Rules

Provincial Court (Family) Rules Amendments

The Provincial Court (Family) Rules have been amended to bring them into conformity with the Family Law Act. As well, some other minor amendments have been made to clarify language and procedures and to correct errors. These changes came into effect on March 18, 2013 at the same time as the Family Law Act. There were also some changes to Rule 21 (Parenting after Separation Program) and Form 32 (fax cover sheet) which came into effect on July 1, 2012.

A document providing background to these amendments is available here. The Order in Council bringing the Rule 21 change into force is here. The Order in Council bringing the amendments into force March 18, 2013 is here.

Supreme Court (Family) Rules Amendments

The Supreme Court Family Rules have been amended to bring them into conformity with the Family Law Act. As well, some other minor amendments have been made to clarify language and procedures and to correct errors. These changes came into effect on March 18, 2013 at the same time as the Family Law Act.

A document providing background to these amendments is available here. The Order in Council that brought the amendments into force on March 18, 2013 is here.