As reported by the Vancouver Sun, British Columbia’s Attorney General Mike de Jong is spearheading what family lawyers are hailing as groundbreaking — even radical — changes to how the province governs divorce, separation, common law unions and child custody.
The proposed changes, which come after a 4-year review of British Columbia’s Family Relations Act — which hadn’t been revisited since its inception in 1968 — will oblige divorcing spouses to prove in court that they discussed alternative dispute resolution processes, including mediation and conflict resolution.
“Family law is built around a very adversarial mode,” de Jong commented. “And we think there is a better way, when a family changes or a relationship comes apart … to resolve some of those issues than rushing off to court immediately.”
Of course, the motive isn’t entirely about making life easier for spouses; it’s also designed to un-burden the court system. Currently, a whopping 25% of all litigation in the province deals with the consequences of failed relationship, and over 40% of all marriages end in divorce.
Also under proposed changes, British Columbians who enjoin in common-law relationships for at least two years, or who have children together, would be required to split assets and debts acquired during the relationship (unless they created a written agreement prior to the union).Currently, no such division of asset/debt requirement exists, and some observers allege that couples are avoiding the altar to protect sole-ownership of their property.
“All those people who don’t get married because they don’t want to deal with property, they are going to need agreements,” said Georgialee Lang, a Vancouver family lawyer and member of the advisory group that helped shape the reforms. “Being a common-law spouse now, if these recommendations are enacted, is no longer protection against your property.”
However, not all political observers envision a rosy future. Leonard King, the government opposition justice critic, wants the government to help pay for mediation and conflict resolution if it expects citizens to benefit from the new rules. “If you don’t put money into it, it’s not going to work,” he warned.
In response, de Jong’s ministry said that it “may have to consider the realignment of fiscal resources.” However, no details were forthcoming.
Divorce Magazine will follow this issue and publish updates as they become available.
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