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Difference Between Divorce Act and Family Law Act in Ontario

family law act and divorce act in Ontario

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, Family Law is an umbrella term covering a broad range of legal topics that stem from family relationships.

This includes spousal (i.e. marital and common-law) support, parent-child relationships and even family dependents relief applications. 

What Is The Family Law Act?

The Family Law Act is a statute passed by the Legislature of Ontario in 1990, which currently regulates the rights of spouses and dependants in regard to property, support, inheritance, prenuptial agreements, separation agreements and other matters of family law.

In 1999, this statute was the subject of a watershed ruling in M. v. H. by the Supreme Court of Canada that established the equality of spousal rights for same-sex couples under Canadian law. 

Collectively, Family Law refers to the field of law covering all aspects of these family-related connections, including:

  • Child Protection
  • Child Custody And Access
  • Division Of Family Property Upon Separation And Divorce
  • Spousal And Child Support
  • Adoption And Parentage
  • Dependents’ Relief Applications

In Ontario, Family Law issues are covered mainly by provincial legislation.

What Is The Divorce Act?

Divorce Law, in contrast, is governed by federal legislation which applies equally across Canada.

The Divorce Act is the governing statute of rules and regulations that are used when a couple wishes to be divorced in Canada. It covers everything from the jurisdiction of divorce proceedings to corollary relief such as child support orders, spousal support orders, provisional orders and many more regulations. 

The main information to know about the Divorce Act is that every rule that stems from it is used in every divorce proceeding across all of Canada.  In order to be divorced, parties need to be legally married and, in this case, their claims may fall under the Divorce Act.

Key Differences Between The Divorce & Family Law Acts

If you and your former spouse were never married, the Family Law Act will be followed in your separation. If you were married, you can use the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act.

There isn’t much difference between your legal rights as parents in either the Divorce Act or Family Act. Only under the Divorce Act can you get a divorce and only under the Family Law Act can you deal with property division.

It is recommended that if you’re applying for a Divorce use the Divorce Act, for all other matters use the Family Law Act.

However, reference to the Divorce Act has grown to mean more than simply the administrative dissolution of a marriage; this is because divorce-related steps are really intertwined with some of the Family Law issues listed above, especially family property, child support and custody. 

For more information about divorce or separation laws in Ontario please contact us now and book a free 30-minute consultation.