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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.
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 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.
The act also increases the ability of the court to deal with family violence by:
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.
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.
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.
The new Family Law Act establishes a much needed framework for determining a child’s legal parents, including where assisted reproduction is used.
The Justice Statutes Amendment Act came into effect May 26, 2014. It amends the Family Law Act to clarify sections related to the division of property at the end of a spousal relationship, including the division of the interests of spouses in trusts and gifts received during a relationship, as well as the choice of rules for property division court proceedings. Additionally, the amendments made by the act strengthen the protection order provisions of the Family Law Act by defining “weapon” and “firearm,” and by specifically authorizing judges to prohibit individuals from possessing documents necessary to legally own or possess a weapon or firearm.
The Justice Statutes Amendment Act also makes corrections and clarifications to the legislation that was affected when the FLA was enacted.