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Divorce During COVID-19: Delays in changes to the Divorce Act

On June 5, 2020, the federal government announced that the pending changes to the Divorce Act will be delayed to March 1, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes were originally scheduled to come into effect on July 1, 2020, in accordance with Bill C-78.

With the government focused on the pandemic, leaders have not had the opportunity to focus on the implementation of these changes. Our courts continue to generally limit hearings, which are being dealt with virtually or in writing. On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, the Attorney General announced that Ontario courts will carefully begin resuming some in-person proceedings, on Monday, July 6, 2020 with plans to have the courts fully up and running again by November.

The incoming changes to the Divorce Act are designed to modernize family laws and to recognize that divorce and separation are a reality for many Canadian families.

One focus of the changes is to ensure that the best interests of the children involved in Canadian divorces are paramount. For example, the new approach uses terms like “parenting orders” and “decision-making responsibilities” to replace orders for custody and access. Other amendments address issues with relocating children after a divorce and includes requirements to give notice of plans to move and guidelines to help the courts decide if a move should be allowed.

Another major area of change are provisions to limit income-related disputes in the family justice system. Separation and divorce can have a significant economic impact on families. Children need the financial support of both parents and they are legally entitled to this support. To determine the child support amount, disclosure of specific income information is required.

Disclosure issues are among the most contentious issues in a family law case. When disclosure is not provided, the parent seeking the disclosure must ask the court to make an order that the information be provided. The parent can also ask the court to impose penalties and consequences if there is a failure to follow the order. However, obtaining orders like this can be costly.

The changes allow the provinces and territories to authorize their respective provincial support services (in Ontario, this is the Family Responsibility Office) to establish child support and recalculate child support in certain cases, a function that is currently left exclusively to the courts.

Other changes address family violence, including the expanding the definition of what is family violence and improving access to justice and efficiency in the family court system.

These changes are the first substantive changes to federal divorce laws in over twenty years. The legislative overhaul will have a significant impact on separating spouses and families. We would be happy to advise you on the impact that the new laws will have on your unique situation.

If you have questions about how COVID-19 impacts your family law matter, call Natalie Taccone at 416-987-3300 or email her at ntaccone@bortolussifamilylaw.com.