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What has changed in family law in Ontario in the past year

Family law concept on white table against blue background

This past year has brought notable changes to the Divorce Act. Specific changes came into force on March 1, 2021 and additional federal support enforcement laws will come into force at different times over the next two years.  The changes to the Divorce Act amend Canada’s federal family laws related to divorce, parenting and enforcement of family obligations. There are four key objectives:

  1. Promote the best interests of the child
  2. Address family violence
  3. Help to reduce child poverty, and
  4. Make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient

The amendments to the Divorce Act include a list of specific factors that a court must consider when deciding a child’s best interests. Some of these factors include: the nature and strength of the child’s relationships with parents, the child’s physical & emotional safety, psychological safety, the child’s linguistic upbringing, cultural upbringing, spiritual heritage and the child’s views and preferences (s.16 (2) of the Divorce Act).

The wording used in the Divorce Act has been changed to be more child-focused with an emphasis on the actual tasks of parenting. One example is; “parenting orders” have been implemented to replace “custody and access”. The new wording is neutral and emphasizes that both former spouses will be caring for the child. This is in efforts to reinforce the idea that there is no “winner” or “loser”.

The definition for “family violence” has been changed to include conduct such as: violent threatening, a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour causing a family member to fear for their safety, and directly or indirectly exposing a child to such conduct. Courts will now have to take family violence into account before making parenting orders and contract or support orders. The courts will need to consider any other proceedings involving any of the parties.

Some support administrative services will be able to perform tasks that were originally only in the jurisdiction of the courts. These changes are in the attempt to make the family justice system more accessible and efficient.