British Columbia’s Attorney-General Mike De Jong released his Ministry’s long awaited recommendations for changes to BC’s Family Relations Act. Enacted over 30 years ago, the Family Relations Act has been tweaked from time to time, but the amendments contemplated by the Attorney-General signal a fresh approach to family law issues.
Some of the major changes are:
1. The abandonment of certain words in the legislation that tend to promote conflict. For example, a parent who does not have “custody” of a child but has “access” may feel that his or her parenting role is demeaned by the word “access”.
Common complaints include the notion that these traditional expressions of parenting treat the child as a chattel. The recommendation is “guardianship” be used instead of “custody” and that “parenting time” be substituted for “access”.
2. Currently common law spouses are not entitled to apply for a division of family property upon the breakdown of their relationship. A complicated and ponderous legal concept may be invoked, but it is more expensive and provides nominal compensation. (the doctrine of unjust enrichment)
Amendments to the law would open the door for common law spouses to enjoy the same property law benefits as legally married spouses. The recommendation states that where common law spouses live in a marriage-like relationship for two years or have a child, they should be treated like married spouses. This recommendation would, of course, also apply to same-sex couples.
3. Issues arising from reproductive technology are addressed in the recommendations. For example, the amended law will govern situations where a child may have three parents i.e. a birth mother, the birth mother’s partner and a sperm donor. As well, laws with respect to surrogate mothers will also be covered in the proposed changes to the law.
4. Spousal support will not terminate upon the death of a payor spouse, but may continue and be paid from the estate of the deceased spouse.
5. Overall, the focus in family law will move from a court-centered approach to out-of court resolutions. Mediation and collaborative law will continue to be highlighted. Family law arbitration will be introduced.
The White paper that contains the recommendations can be viewed at the Attorney-General’s website. The government invites written input from members of the public with a view to commence drafting the new law in 2011.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang