Canada’s Divorce Act revamped to deal with household violence and custody battles

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TORONTO, Ontario (CTV News) – The federal government has revised Canada’s divorce law in hopes the amended legislation will promote the welfare of children and make the family justice system more efficient.

The new amendments, which now include a section on domestic violence, mark the first major changes to federal family law in more than 20 years.

According to the Justice Department, changes have been made because “domestic violence takes many forms and can cause significant harm to both victims and witnesses”.

The law defines domestic violence as any behavior that is threatening, forms a pattern of coercive and control behavior, or causes a family member to fear for his or her safety or the safety of another person.

The new definition encompasses not only acts of violence, but also the child’s exposure to such acts, and states that a person’s behavior does not have to result in a crime to be considered family violence under the Divorce Act.

“The changes we made to modernize divorce law have been a long time coming and I am proud to see them come into effect today,” Canadian Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti said in a statement. “We understand the importance of divorce law changes to Canadians affected by separation and divorce, especially vulnerable family members.”

He added, “Given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked hard with our partners to implement these changes that address domestic violence and promote the best interests of the child.”

In addition to domestic violence, the legislation also contains guidelines for the event that a parent wants to move with a child. What was previously referred to as a custody decision has been removed from the divorce law and replaced by the term “Parental Regulation” in order to avoid bitter custody disputes between parents.

The term custody itself has also been replaced to distinguish between “parental leave” and “decision-making responsibility”.

Livia Fajkusz, a mother of three whose divorce was finalized in January, told CTV News Calgary the importance of legally codifying this information. “The more things are written there, the less you have to really fight for yourself,” she said.

Fajkusz said their divorce was amicable, but she believes the new laws will help other couples resolve their differences outside of court.

“For me, the most important changes are that they include a more detailed description of domestic violence … not just physical violence, but also mental, emotional and financial abuse,” she said.

In an interview with CTV’s Your Morning, David Morneau, executive director of the Child Witness Center in the Waterloo area of ​​Ontario, said the definition of domestic violence did not exist in law prior to these changes, but now the courts must take account of cases of abuse in decision-making.

“[There] was simply a clause that said no past behavior should be considered unless it was relevant to a person’s ability to be a parent, ”explained Morneau. “Of course, family violence was often recognized as relevant behavior [to the judge’s decision] but much would be overlooked because there was often a narrow framework for what constitutes domestic violence. “

The reforms were originally scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2020, but have been postponed until now due to the pandemic.

The government says other goals of the divorce law amendments are to help reduce child poverty and make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient.

For more details on divorce law, please visit the Government of Canada website.

With files from CTV News Calgary’s Ina Sidhu

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