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The new Family Law Act: Making agreements to stay out of court

On November 24, 2011, BC’s new Family Law Act was introduced. This act will have wide-reaching effects on family law in the province. Here is a summary of how the act encourages out-of-court resolution of family law cases. For more information, see the act itself and our introduction to the act.

By giving equal emphasis to agreements and court orders, the new Family Law Act places a new emphasis on out-of-court resolutions and encourages people to settle their family law cases without having to go before a judge.

Agreements are written contracts describing how a couple has agreed to settle the legal issues in their relationship or the issues that might come up when they separate. Agreements could cover how they deal with property and finances while they are together or how they want to handle dividing property and debt after they break up. If the agreement covers property division or the payment of spousal support, it must be signed by both parties and witnessed by at least one other person. It’s a good idea to have any family law agreement signed and witnessed.

Agreements made after couples break up may also cover guardianship, parental responsibilities, parenting time and contact with a child, and child or spousal support. (Agreements about the children and child support are only valid if they are signed when a couple is about to separate or has separated.) It’s also possible to make a verbal agreement about children and support, but such an agreement will be difficult to enforce later on.

Under the new act, the court may set aside agreements or replace them with court orders, but cannot change them.

The new act also provides better support for out-of-court negotiation by making it mandatory for both parties to give complete financial and other information to each other. If one party doesn’t provide all the information that could affect an agreement, and the court has to set aside that agreement as a result, the court may penalize that party.

Under the new act, the courts can also refer people to out-of-court dispute resolution services such as counselling, mediation, and arbitration, or appoint a parenting coordinator to help parents implement a parenting plan described in a final order or agreement.

Our thanks to JP Boyd for providing the background for this series. You can find more information on the new Family Law Act, as well as other family law issues, at his BC Family Law Resource Blog.

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