Have you ever applied for a Divorce in Canada? If so, the relief you claimed, including your divorce, custody, access and support, was under the Divorce Act. This federal legislation was created in 1985 and there have not been any substantive changes to the Act – until now! Effective July 1, 2020, recent amendments that have been made to the Divorce Act will come into effect and I’m expecting a big impact.
What can you expect?
Effective July 1, 2020, you will no longer be requesting a Custody or Access Order; instead, you will be requesting a Parenting Order, which will include Decision Making Responsibilities and Parenting Time. Parenting Plans may be filed with the Court and if you are not a parent (such as a Grandparent), you may request a Contact Order.
The Divorce Act now includes a detailed list of “Best Interest” criteria for children, and parents have new itemized duties, including a Duty to act in their children’s Best Interests. There are new duties on lawyers as well, including a Duty to inform parents of their duties. Gone are the days when lawyers could simply act on their client’s instruction – instead they must be mindful of the children and the impact their client may be having on them. Family violence is also addressed in the new amendments, as are the importance of children’s views and preferences.
Parents wanting to relocate with children must be vigilant with the new amendments to the Divorce Act. There will be notice requirements for a proposed move and there is a separate Best Interest criteria in these cases.
Parents will also have a duty to try to resolve their family disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution, such as negotiation and mediation, to the extent it is appropriate, as opposed to Court being their first thought. Lawyers also have a duty to encourage these processes, unless they are clearly inappropriate.
But don’t think the status quo will continue for those not seeking a Divorce. I was at a conference on Monday and heard Ontario’s Attorney General, Doug Downey, speak. He confirmed that he expects Ontario’s legislation, such as the Children’s Law Reform Act, to become “aligned” with the amendments to the Divorce Act. He also confirmed he is very aware of the timing and intends for Ontario’s changes to be effective along with the Divorce Act.
We are in the midst of an exciting time in family law – one where positive changes are possible for children!