The provincial government plans “revolutionary” changes to the Family Relations Act:
Its proposals to update the 30-year-old Family Relations Act include revising the legal definition of a parent, changing property-division rules, making children’s interests the “only” consideration in parenting disputes, and even replacing the terms “custody” and “access” with “guardianship” and “parenting time.”
Another key aspect of the proposals is to change the adversarial aspect of separations, making it easier for couples to use out-of-court options to resolve issues such as child custody and division of assets.
The proposals would extend the rules of property division to couples who have been living together as common-law partners for more than two years, as well as to any common-law couples who have a child together.—- That change would be significant, as the property division aspect of the existing Family Relations Act generally does not apply to unmarried spouses.
The proposed new law also changes the way property is divided in the event of a separation, which the government says will create more certainty.
Under the new scheme, a couple would split property owned by one or both spouses at the time of separation, but with some exceptions. Those exceptions include items such as gifts and inheritances to one spouse; pre- and post-relationship property, and settlements or damage awards from tort claims involving just one spouse.
Under the existing law, property eligible for division is defined as that “ordinarily used for a family purpose,” a definition many have said is too vague.
The new proposals also seek to add legal clarity to situations where more than two people may be involved in the conception and birth of a child, such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.
The new law would state that a birth mother would be the child’s legal mother and could only give up her parental status through either adoption or surrogacy.
In an assisted conception that is not a surrogacy, the law would presume the birth mother’s partner — either opposite sex or same sex — to be the child’s other parent.—- Third-party donors of eggs, sperm or embryo would not be considered a legal parent, though they would be allowed to apply for such a designation and the new law would allow for more than two legal parents to be named.
The proposed new law would also replace terms like “custody” and “access” with “guardianship” and “parenting time,” a move many say will lead to a less adversarial process.
The law would also make child access as much a responsibility as a right by allowing a court to intervene and take action if a parent “fails to exercise the parenting time or contact without notice to the applicable guardian.”