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A number of significant changes were made to the Divorce Act, which impact family law litigants, specifically divorced parents and separated spouses with children. These amendments to the Divorce Act took effect on March 1, 2021.

Divorce Act changes explained:

Duties for parents

The duties that are now clearly set out in the Divorce Act are for parents. Additionally, the changes to the legislation also set out duties for legal advisors. The duties are simple, straightforward “ground rules” for all. While it is unfortunate that the duties have to be defined, they provide for the starting point for parents, spouses, etc., so that parents’ and spouses’ duties to each other, and for their children, the system, etc., are clear. 

The duties are set out in sections 7.1 to 7.6 of the Divorce Act.

Specific to parties who have been granted parenting time or decision-making responsibility of a child now there is a clear obligation and duty to exercise their time or responsibilities in a manner that is consistent with the child’s best interests, s. 7.1. This duty to also includes any person (for example a grandparent, etc.) who has been granted “contact” with a child under a Contact Order.

Parents now are mandated by the changes made to the legislation to protect their children from conflict to the best of their ability, s. 7.2. 

Another important legislative mandate is that where appropriate parents are to try to resolve matters through family dispute resolution, rather than first resorting to the Courts, s. 7.3. Family dispute resolution processes are out of Court alternatives, for example negotiation of an Agreement with assistance of your lawyer, mediation, collaborative law, etc., where the parties attempt to resolve the matters in dispute. These out-of-Court options have many benefits, which include; 

  • less cost,
  • less time,
  • parents can retain more control over the process and decisions involved,
  • with family dispute resolution there often is less negative impact on the parties’ emotional well-being as compared with the Court process.

Duties to disclose and comply with orders

Parties are mandated to provide complete, accurate and up to date information as required in Court, which includes disclosure of one’s income, assets, debts and also includes information about any orders and proceedings that may exist and are relevant, for example, criminal proceedings or criminal orders, s. 7.4.

Another duty clearly mandated is that parties are to comply with Orders until the Orders are no longer in effect, s. 7.5.

Duties for legal advisors

There are also positive duties on the lawyer, set out in section 7.7 of the Divorce Act, which includes;

  1. encouraging clients to use alternative of family dispute resolution processes, such as mediation, arbitration, parenting coordinators, collaborative law, etc., unless such processes are inappropriate given the circumstances of the matter, for example, in cases where there is a power imbalance or violence,
  2. informing clients about family justice services that may assist to resolve issues or assist the party with complying with an order or decision,
  3. advising clients about their duties under the Act.

The goal behind these amendments to the Divorce Act is to promote, when possible, early, out-of-Court resolution and to assist parents in focusing on their children’s well-being.

Do you require assistance with a family law related issue?

Andrea Cooley is a senior lawyer and Counsel in Siskinds’ Family Law Department. If you would like to discuss your adoption, separation, divorce, parenting or separation agreements or any specific family law issues, she can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 519-660-7782.

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