Changes to the Divorce Act |

Changes to the Divorce Act

Paula Puddy, HBA LLB MBA

Family law in Ontario faced some big changes in 2019 particularly with respect to Bill C-78, proposed changes to the Divorce Act. This Bill received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019.

Pamela Biron walks us through 4 of those new developments: Bill C-78, Limited Scope Services Project, Increased Court Costs and UFC court expansion.

1. Bill C-78 – An act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

Pamela comments that, if passed, this is the biggest overhaul of family law in Ontario in decades. She highlights 8 major changes to the Act including two novel changes:

i. Recognizing the impact of supporting the other parent’s relationship with the child.

It appears that the government is interested in ensuring the child has a relationship with both parents, and wants to minimize the chance of alienation from one parent, unless there is a valid reason such as addiction or violence.

ii. Restricting relocation

This proposed amendment outlines a framework for relocation of a child. These changes include giving 60 days notice, giving a reason for the relocation, having the relocation court approved unless there is consent, and shifting the burden of proof. Essentially, the opposing party must show that the relocation is not in the best interests of the child. If parenting time is shared and decision-making is equal between parents, then the moving party must prove that the move is in the child’s best interests. Pamela suggests that the government is trying to minimize trials over relocation which are costly and subjective.

The other changes are as follows:

iii. Implementing child focussed language (getting away from custody and access)

iv. Encouraging dispute resolution

v. Considering the relevance of family violence on best interests of the child and parenting arrangements

vi. Giving children a voice

vii. Recognizing grandparents rights

vii. Granting calculation of child support to FRO (rather than going to court every time)

The coming-into-force date of most of the Divorce Act amendments has been set by Order in Council as July 1, 2020.

2. Limited Scope Services Project

Pamela first discusses a relatively new initiative entitled the Ontario Family law Limited Scope Services Project. The Law Foundation of Ontario funded this Limited Scope Services Project which aims to improve access to family justice for middle and lower income Ontarians by increasing the use of limited scope retainers, legal coaching and summary legal counsel in family law matters. Essentially, the unbundling of family law services. Check out helpful information for lawyers and clients including the requirements to be on their roster (3 years practice, 1/3 of your practice in family law, and a training webinar), the application form, best practices, a sample retainer letter and FAQ’s.

3. Increasing Court Costs

Pamela reviewed the substantial increase in court costs as of April 1, 2019. She commented that some practitioners may have changed their flat fee charged for a divorce on consent given these increases. Of note is that fee waiver eligibility has increased too.

The court costs will be increased every 3 years starting January 2023 based on COLA.

4. Unified Family Court

The government is expanding UFC’s in 8 jurisdictions: Belleville, Picton, Pembroke, Kitchener, Welland, Simcoe, Cayuga and St. Thomas.

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