The Divorce Act Has Changed... How?
By Sarah Macdonald, Calgary family lawyer
Changes made to the Divorce Act on March 1, 2021 need to be understood by people going through the divorce process. The new duties that must be complied with include:
- Exercising responsibilities in the best interests of the child;
- Protecting children from conflict;
- Trying to resolve matters through family dispute resolution;
- Providing complete, accurate and up-to-date information regarding income and asset disclosure required and information about other orders and proceedings that are relevant;
- Complying with court orders until they are no longer in effect.
Diving deeper into the changes, the Divorce Act now sets out (under Section 16.3) itemized factors to be considered by a decision-maker when determining the best interests of the child. The factors include consideration of the nature and strength of the child’s relationships with parents, grandparents and other important people in their life, while taking into account the child’s linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage and upbringing, including Indigenous ties, and the child’s views and preferences. Another significant factor is the prevalence of family violence, now defined more broadly to include threatening acts and a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.
On the back of the Divorce Act changes, Courts will continue strongly urging parties to consider alternative dispute resolution methods, including negotiation, mediation and EICCs. Lawyers now have a duty to inform and encourage clients to attend alternative dispute resolution, unless circumstances make it clear that it would be inappropriate. More often than not, mediation is a faster, less expensive option than Court. It is also much less stressful on the parties.
For those already divorced, you might notice some tweaks to the language and terms. Instead of using “custody” or “access” parent, the amended Divorce Act refers to “parenting time” and “decision making responsibility”. These changes will show up in any future Court Orders or Agreements.
It is essential to understand and comply with the Divorce Act. If you need some expert assistance regarding the recent changes, call Crossroads Law for a free 20 minute consult.