Recent amendments have been made to the Divorce Act in Canada and came into force on March 1, 2021. There are four key objectives behind these changes:

1) Promoting the best interests of the child

The criteria that courts must consider when determining the best interests of the child have been updated to include consideration of the nature and strength of the child’s relationship with parents, grandparents and others, the child’s cultural and spiritual heritage and upbringing, and the child’s own views and preferences. Key wording has also been changed to a more neutral and child-focused approach, for example, a “custody order” is now replaced by a “parenting order” under the Act and terminology awarding one primary caregiver “custody” of a child is substituted with “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibilities” apportioned accordingly when a child is under the care of more than one parent or guardian.

2) Addressing family violence

Under the new amendments, courts will also have to consider the impact of family violence when determining the best interests of the child. Criminal and other relevant court proceedings involving any of the parties to a family law proceeding will need to be considered where applicable. This will be the first time the Divorce Act has addressed family violence in its legislation.

3) Helping reduce child poverty

The new legislation will also address child poverty, the incidence of which is more prevalent in Canada following divorce or separation, and better tools for enforcing child support orders are being enabled. The family justice system is also being revamped to make it more accessible for families and to help reduce their costs when seeking the court’s help with family decision-making.

4) Making Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient

Some of the ways the justice system is becoming more efficient for families include provincial support when determining or varying child support payments, streamlining interprovincial orders by allowing one court to make decisions that apply across multiple jurisdictions, and employing family dispute resolution processes wherever possible before getting the courts involved.

All of these changes are intended to promote access to justice for all families regardless of their socioeconomic status and to help ensure the well-being of Canadian children who are involved in family law disputes.

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Deborah A. Todd