On March 1, 2021, several legislation changes regarding Family Law came into effect. Here is a brief summary of some of the major changes.
1. Changes in the terminology used with respect to Parenting.
The legislation has replaced the terms “custody” and "access” with “decision-making responsibility” and “parenting time”. There are also changes to the wording used to describe parenting arrangements. This makes the law more child-focused, with a greater emphasis on the actual tasks of parenting. Now, a “parenting order” will lay out each parent’s “decision-making responsibilities,” which refers to making important decisions on behalf of a child, and "parenting time." Both parents could have parenting time, depending on each child’s best interests. The aim of this change in terminology is to move away from the “Winner/loser” stigma that is attached to 1 parent having sole custody of the child(ren).
2. There is now the ability for non-parents to apply for “contact orders”.
A court can make an order for contact between a child and a person other than one of the parents, i.e., siblings, grandparents etc.
3. Legislation on the “Best Interests of the Child.
The amendments have introduced a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to the best interests of the child. Primary consideration that the Courts shall be taking into account are the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being.
A person to whom parenting time or decision-making responsibility has been allocated or who has contact with that child under a contact order, must act in a manner that is always in the child’s best interest. This addition to the legislation was added as there was a crucial need to emphasize the best interests of the child. It is now a constant reminder to all parties involved.
4. Additional duty added for the Protection of children from conflict.
A party to a proceeding under the Divorce Act must, to the best of their ability, protect the child(ren) from any conflict that may arise as a result of the ongoing litigation. This addition was added as research indicated that the well being, and the children involved in a divorce proceeding suffered immensely. This is because the children were continuously exposed to the conflict between the parents.
5. Duty to encourage Family Dispute Resolution.
The amended legislation has also created additional duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution throughout the process.
Parties should be encouraged to attempt to resolve matters outside of the Court unlessen is clearly inappropriate to do so (family violence history etc.). This amendment clarifies that legal advisers have new specific duties and obligations under the Divorce Act. This is because, in most cases, family dispute resolution processes tend to be faster, less expensive, and more effective than court proceedings. They are also more likely to serve the interests of the child.
6. Introduction of legislation to assist the Courts in addressing family violence. This is in addition to the creation of duties for the Court to consider whether there are criminal or child welfare cases involving the parties or whether there is a restraining order against either party. 
This amendment provides the court with a non-exhaustive list of additional factors related to family violence. The court must assess these factors along with other best interests of the child factors. The change in the legislation was brought about as there has been an increase in evidence that each type of violence has unique impacts and effects. To determine which parenting arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the court must consider the particular nature and impact of the family violence. It is noted that actual situations of family violence rarely will fall exclusively into one category, it is therefore important to look at the severity of the violence in each case.
7. Establishment of a framework for the change of residence or relocation of a child.
This now includes three broad components: (i) notice of the proposed change, (ii)additional best interest criteria, and (iii) burdens of proof that will apply in certain cases.
8. Simplification of certain processes.
The legislation has also made the relevant amendments to simplify certain processes related to family law proceedings. One particular interest to most family matters is in the simplification of the processes related to Support Obligations.
The Goal – to make the family justice system more accessible and efficient.
It is the hope that these new measures will assist in streamlining the administrative processes and make family justice more accessible and affordable.
This Article is meant for information purposes only and not meant to be a replacement for Legal Advice. If you have questions about the changes in the legislation or need to speak to a family lawyer, please contact Kavita Ramnanan via email or on 647-625-9661.
Duty to discuss and inform (Section 7.7(2), Divorce Act)
Factors relating to family violence (Section 16(4), Divorce Act)
Kavita Ramnanan is an associate lawyer in Toronto at Rose Law Firm.
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