The Family Law Act (FLA) is a new law that came into effect on March 18, 2013 in British Columbia. The FLA governs issues such as parenting arrangements and responsibilities after separation, dividing family property, spousal maintenance and child maintenance, protection orders, and legal parenthood (although the Divorce Act (Canada) also applies to some of these issues in the case of married couples).
The FLA includes many changes from the previous law, and so the terminology or information you have heard about in the past may be different now. For example, words like custody and access have been replaced (guardianship and parenting time).
The FLA takes a child-centric approach, in part in an attempt to respond to research which indicates that conflict between parents is one of the strongest predictors of poor child outcomes. The FLA represents a shift from focusing on the rights of and relationship between the parents towards focusing on the relationship between the child and each parent.
The FLA was designed to encourage parties, and particularly parents, to resolve their differences and any legal disputes without going to court. The FLA specifically states that resolution out of court is preferred. Because the FLA encourages negotiated settlement, it also sets out requirements for parties and for family dispute resolution specialists (lawyers, mediators and other legal professionals). Specifically:
(1) Parties to a family law dispute are required to provide to the other spouse full and true information for the purposes of resolving a family law dispute. Agreements about financial issues (maintenance, division of family property and debt) which are negotiated based upon incomplete or inaccurate information are likely to be set aside or varied.
(2) Lawyers are required to assess for, among other things, family violence, in order to protect the client’s safety and to assist clients to choose the best option to resolve their family law disputes.
(3) Parties, lawyers and judges are required to consider only the best interests of the child when making agreements or orders about parenting arrangements. If family violence is present, the courts are required to take that into consideration when deciding what is in the child’s best interests.