A Review Of The Key Themes Of The Proposed Family Law Act

Further to my article in July of 2010, the provincial government of British Columbia released the White Paper on Family Relations Act Reform: Proposals for a new Family Law Act (the “Family Law Act”). As discussed, the Family Law Department at Pushor Mitchell is going to produce a series of Legal Alert Articles outlining various parts of the Family Law Act that we believe are interesting and significant. This will by no means be an exhaustive review of all of the provisions of the Family Law Act, but rather a brief description of some of the proposed changes.

I will start the series by reviewing what the White Paper describes as the “Key Themes in the Proposed New Act”.

These themes are identified as follows:

  • Not making Court a presumptive starting point
  • Broader range of Dispute Resolution Options
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Safety
  • Non-adversarial language

These themes are a result of feedback that the Family Justice Reform Working Group received from the stakeholders involved in the review of the Family Relations Act and from those involved with the family justice system generally.

Researchers found that the current system virtually mandated judicial intervention in order for parties to have substantive resolution to their matters if they could not agree otherwise. These requirements lead almost inevitably to increased financial and emotional costs to the parties.

As an alternative, the Family Law Act focuses on providing parties with a broad range of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. These mechanisms are aimed at consensual dispute resolution rather than adversarial solutions.

Tied to this is the idea of conflict prevention. The Family Law Act includes early and judicial intervention in cases where conflict may lead to harm. Judges would be able to require that parties attend family counselling or work with a parenting coordinator to assist them in reducing the conflict between them.

When referring to safety, the Family Law Act and its provisions recognize the negative and harmful impact of violence. Of particular concern is the impact of such violence on children. The Family Law Act includes provisions that would allow for direct and early intervention if violence is involved. Such violence can be physical, emotional or financial.

Finally, the Family Law Act seeks to introduce non-adversarial language, allowing the parties to focus on the children rather than on the fight. The Family Law Act is proposing to remove proprietary terms such as “custody” and “access” and replace them with “guardianship” and “parenting time”.

Working with these key themes, it is fair to say that the Family Law Act is focused and primed to assist families in resolving their disputes in a more collaborative manner, as well as provide for the requisite levels of intervention when appropriate.

* It is important to note that the White Paper is not law, but is a series of proposals that are being submitted for consideration.

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