Difference between revisions of "Introduction to Family Law (No. 114)"

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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [https://www.southcoastlaw.ca/renee-aldana/ Renée Aldana], South Coast Law Group|date= October 2018}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = relationships}}
==What is family law?==
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Family law deals with legal issues that impact families. Family breakups, divorce, getting married, adoption, and family violence all fall within this area of law. Learn the '''basics of family law'''.  
Family law is the area of the law that deals with family problems. Most of the time, these problems involve couples that have been in a married or unmarried relationship and have now separated. Family problems can also involve people who have never been in a long-term relationship, like a couple who never dated but have a child together, and people who have never been in a romantic relationship at all, like a grandparent who would like to have time with or care for a grandchild.
 
  
It's important to know that in British Columbia, family law applies to people in same-sex relationships exactly as it does to people in opposite-sex relationships. There is no legal difference between heterosexual relationships and gay and lesbian relationships.
+
==Understand the legal framework==
  
This script provides an introduction to family law, the courts that deal with family law problems and the laws about family law problems. It ends with definitions for some common legal words and phrases used in family law.
+
===Family law deals with family issues===
 +
Often, these issues involve couples that have been in a relationship and have now separated. But family issues can also involve people who have never been in a long-term relationship, like a couple who never dated but have a child together. They can involve people who have never been in a romantic relationship at all, like a grandparent who would like to spend time with or care for a grandchild.
  
==Common family law problems==
+
In BC, family law applies to people in same-sex relationships exactly as it does to people in opposite-sex relationships. There is no legal difference between heterosexual relationships and gay and lesbian relationships.
When a couple separates they have a lot of decisions to make:
 
* Where will the children live? How will decisions about their care be made? How will the parents share the children’s time?
 
* Are any of the children entitled to ongoing financial support from a parent? If so, which parent should pay child support and in what amount?
 
* Does a spouse need financial support from the other spouse? Can the other spouse afford to pay it, and if so, in what amount and for how long?
 
* Who will stay in the family home? Can everybody still live together, or does someone need to move out?
 
* How will property divided? How will responsibility for debts be shared?
 
  
==Different rules for different relationships==
+
This information provides an introduction to family law and the courts that deal with family law issues. It also defines some common legal words and phrases used in family law.
Family law deals with all of these decisions and more. However, not every couple needs to deal with all of these issues. The decisions a couple has to make and the law that applies changes depending on the type of relationship you’re in. Family law talks about four types of relationship:
 
  
* '''Married Spouses:''' Married couples are legally married and require a divorce to end their legal relationship.
+
===Common family law problems===
* '''Unmarried Spouses:''' Unmarried spouses, also called common-law spouses, have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years for claims about property, or for less than two years if the couple has had a child together, for claims about spousal support. Unmarried spouses don’t require a divorce to end their legal relationship. Their relationship ends is over when they separate.
+
When a couple separates, they must make many decisions. For example:
* '''Parents:''' Parents have had a child together and can be married spouses, unmarried spouses, in a dating relationship or not in a relationship with each other at all. Parents can also be people who have had a child by adoption or assisted reproduction, or people who have helped a couple to have a child by assisted reproduction, by donating eggs or sperm, or by being a surrogate mother.
+
*Does one spouse need financial support from the other spouse? Can the other spouse afford to pay it, and if so, how much and for how long?
* '''Children’s Caregivers:''' People who have a significant role in a child’s life but aren’t the child’s parents.
+
*Who will stay in the family home? Can everybody still live together, or does someone need to move out?
 +
*How will property be divided? How will debts be shared?
 +
*If there are children, where will they live? How will decisions about their care be made? How will the parents share time with the children?
 +
*Are the children entitled to ongoing financial support from a parent? If so, which parent should pay child support and what amount?
  
==Family law legislation==
+
===Different rules for different relationships===
Family law involves two different laws that apply depending on the type of relationship:
+
Family law deals with all of these decisions and more. But not all couples need to deal with all these issues. The decisions a couple must make and the law that applies change depending on the type of relationship the couple is in.
  
*'''''Divorce Act''''': The ''Divorce Act'' is a law of the government of Canada and applies throughout Canada. The ''Divorce Act'' only applies to people who are married to each other or who used to be married to each other.
+
Family law involves four types of relationship:
*'''''Family Law Act''''': The ''Family Law Act'' is a law of British Columbia and applies to married spouses, unmarried spouses, parents and children’s caregivers. Not all of the ''Family Law Act'' applies to all of these relationships. The parts that talk about child support and the care of children apply to everyone. The parts that talk about spousal support only apply to married spouses and all unmarried spouses. The parts that talk about dividing property and debt only apply to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who have lived together for at least two years.
+
*'''Married spouses''': Married couples are legally married and require a divorce to end their legal relationship.
 +
*'''Unmarried spouses''': Unmarried spouses, also called '''common-law spouses''', have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years. For spousal support claims, it includes people who have lived together for less than two years and have had a child together. Unmarried spouses don’t require a divorce to end their legal relationship. Their relationship ends when they separate.
 +
*'''Parents''': Parents have had a child together and can be married spouses, unmarried spouses, in a dating relationship, or not in a relationship with each other at all. Parents can also be people who have had a child by adoption or assisted reproduction, or people who have helped a couple to have a child by assisted reproduction, by donating eggs or sperm, or by being a surrogate mother.
 +
*'''Child’s caregivers''': People who have a significant role in a child’s life but aren’t the child’s parents.
 +
 
 +
===Family law legislation===
 +
Family law involves two different laws that apply depending on the type of relationship in play.
 +
 
 +
====Divorce Act====
 +
As a federal law, the ''[http://canlii.ca/t/7vbw Divorce Act]'' applies throughout Canada. The ''Divorce Act'' only applies to people who are married to each other or who used to be married to each other.
 +
 
 +
====Family Law Act====
 +
The ''[http://canlii.ca/t/8q3k Family Law Act]'' is a BC law that applies to married spouses, unmarried spouses, parents, and a child’s caregivers. Not all of the ''Family Law Act'' applies to all of these relationships.  
 +
*The parts that talk about child support and the care of the child apply to everyone.  
 +
*The parts that talk about spousal support apply only to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who claim spousal support within two years of the date they separate.  
 +
*The parts that talk about dividing property and debt only apply to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.
  
 
This chart shows which law applies to whom and for what purpose:
 
This chart shows which law applies to whom and for what purpose:
 
 
<!-- HIDING FOR DEVELOPMENT-->
 
<!-- HIDING FOR DEVELOPMENT-->
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
!style="width: 30%" align="center"|
 
!style="width: 30%" align="center"|
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|'''''Married Spouses'''''
+
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|Married Spouses
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|'''''Unmarried Spouses'''''
+
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|Unmarried Spouses
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|'''''Parents'''''
+
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|Parents
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|'''''Children's Caregivers'''''
+
!style="width: 15%" align="center"|Child's Caregivers
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Divorce||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Divorce||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Custody (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Custody (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Access (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Access (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Guardianship (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Guardianship (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Parental responsibilities and parenting time (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Contact with a Child (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Contact with a child (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Child Support (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Child support (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Child Support (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Child support (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Spousal Support (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Spousal support (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Spousal Support (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Spousal support (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Property and Debt (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Property and debt (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"|  ||align="center"|  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Protection Orders (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Protection orders (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|}
 
|}
  
==Resolving family law problems==
+
===Resolving family law issues===
Family law problems can be resolved through negotiation, mediation, collaborative settlement processes and arbitration without going to court. If a couple can’t resolve these problems themselves, they may have to go to court to have a judge resolve their problems for them.  
+
Family law issues can be resolved in ways that don’t involve going to court. Options include:
 +
*'''Negotiation''': Where the parties discuss the issues to try to reach an agreement.
 +
*'''Mediation''': Where the parties meet with a neutral person (a mediator), who helps them find a solution they agree on.
 +
*'''Collaborative practice''': A kind of negotiation where each party has their own lawyer and agree they will do everything possible to reach a settlement without going to court.
 +
*'''Arbitration''': Where the parties hire an arbitrator to act as their personal judge to make decisions about their dispute they will be bound by.
 +
 
 +
For more on alternatives to court, see our information on [[Mediation and Collaborative Practice (No. 111)|mediation and collaborative practice (no. 111)]].
 +
 
 +
If parties can’t resolve their problems using these approaches, they may have to go to court to have a judge resolve their problems.  
  
 
==Going to court==
 
==Going to court==
There are two courts that deal with family law problems, Family Court, a division of the Provincial Court, and the Supreme Court. Family Court doesn’t charge court fees and its rules are simplified and easy to understand. The rules of the Supreme Court can be very complicated and the court charges fees to file certain documents and schedule certain hearings. However, the Supreme Court can deal with many family law problems that Family Court can’t:
+
There are two courts that deal with family law issues, Family Court and Supreme Court.  
  
*'''Family Court''': Family Court can deal with issues about guardianship and the care of children, child support and spousal support. Family Court can only deal with issues under the ''Family Law Act''.
+
'''Family Court''' is a division of the BC Provincial Court. It doesn’t charge court filing fees and its rules and forms are simplified for people who use the court. Family Court can deal only with issues under the ''Family Law Act'', such as guardianship, child care, child support, and spousal support. For more on this court, see our information on [[Family Court (No. 110)|Family Court (no. 110)]].
  
*'''Supreme Court''': The Supreme Court can deal with all of these issues as well as divorce and the division of property and debt between married spouses and unmarried spouses who have lived together for at least two years. The Supreme Court can deal with issues under both the ''Divorce Act'' and the ''Family Law Act''.
+
'''Supreme Court''' rules are more complicated and the court charges fees to file certain documents and schedule certain hearings. But Supreme Court can deal with issues under both the ''Divorce Act'' and the ''Family Law Act''. So Supreme Court can deal with all the same issues as Family Court, plus divorce and the division of property and debt.
  
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
!style="width: 25%" align="center"|
 
!style="width: 25%" align="center"|
!style="width: 10%" align="center"|'''''Supreme Court'''''
+
!style="width: 10%" align="center"|Supreme Court
!style="width: 10%" align="center"|'''''Family Court'''''
+
!style="width: 10%" align="center"|Family Court
  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|''Family Law Act''||align="center"| ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|''Family Law Act''||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|''Divorce Act''||align="center"| ||align="center"|   
+
|align="left"|''Divorce Act''||align="center"| X ||align="center"|   
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Divorce||align="center"| ||align="center"|   
+
|align="left"|Divorce||align="center"| X ||align="center"|   
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Custody (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|   
+
|align="left"|Custody (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"|   
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Guardianship (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Guardianship (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Access (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Access (''Divorce Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Parental Responsibilitis and Parenting Time (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|    
+
|align="left"|Parental responsibilitis and parenting time (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X    
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Contact with a Child (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Contact with a child (''Family Law Act'')||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Child Support||align="center"| ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Child support||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Spousal Support||align="center"| ||align="center"|  
+
|align="left"|Spousal support||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X  
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Property and Debt||align="center"| ||align="center"|   
+
|align="left"|Property and debt||align="center"| X ||align="center"|   
 
|-
 
|-
|align="center"|Protection Orders||align="center"| ||align="center"|
+
|align="left"|Protection orders||align="center"| X ||align="center"| X
 
|}
 
|}
  
 +
===Key words and phrases in family law===
 +
Here are definitions of some key words and phrases used in family law.
 +
 +
'''Separation''' is the breakdown of a romantic relationship. Separation usually means a couple have moved out and are living apart from each other, but it is possible to be separated while continuing to live under the same roof. See our information on [[Separation and Separation Agreements (No. 115)|separation and separation agreements (no. 115)]] and [[Deciding Who Will Move Out When You Separate (No. 116)|deciding who will move out (no. 116)]].
 +
 +
'''Divorce''' is the legal end of a marriage by a court order. We explain the [[Requirements for Divorce and Annulment (No. 120)|requirements for divorce in no. 120]].
 +
 +
'''Child''' is any person under the age of 19, the age of majority in British Columbia. It may include an adult child for the purposes of child support. The ''Divorce Act'' uses the term “child of the marriage”.
 +
 +
'''Parent''' is someone who is the birth parent of a child, the adopted parent of a child, a parent by assisted reproduction, or, in some cases, a donor of eggs or sperm and a surrogate mother.
 +
 +
Several terms are involved when talking of who the children should live with and how decisions about their care will be made. Under the ''Divorce Act'', this is called '''custody'''. Under the ''Family Law Act'', this is called '''parenting arrangements''', which includes guardianship, parental responsibilities, and parenting time.
 +
 +
'''Guardianship''' is the right of a parent (or a person appointed by the court) to care for a child and have parental responsibilities. '''Parental responsibilities''' are decisions about the upbringing and care of a child made by the child’s guardians. '''Parenting time''' is a guardian’s time with a child, usually fixed by a schedule.
  
==Family law words and phrases==
+
The time a person who is not a guardian has with a child is called '''contact''' under ''Family Law Act'' and '''access''' under the ''Divorce Act''.  
Before you move on to the other scripts on family law, here are definitions of some common words and phrases used in these scripts.
 
  
*'''Access''': A parent’s time with a child, usually fixed by a schedule. Access is a term used in the federal ''Divorce Act''.
+
For more on these concepts involving care of the children, see our information on [[Custody and Access, Guardianship, Parenting Arrangements, and Contact (No. 142)|custody, guardianship and parenting arrangements and contact (no. 142)]].
*'''Application''': A formal request for a court order.
 
*'''Arbitration''': A process in which a family law dispute is resolved by a neutral arbitrator after a formal hearing.
 
*'''Case Conference''': An informal meeting with a judge to review the issues in a court case and explore options for settlement. In Family Court, a “Family Case Conference.” In the Supreme Court, a “Judicial Case Conference.”
 
*'''Child''': Any person under the age of 19, the age of majority in British Columbia. May include adult children for the purposes of child support. The ''Divorce Act'' uses the term “child of the marriage.”
 
*'''Child Support''': Money paid by one parent to the other for the financial support of their children.
 
*'''Child Support Guidelines''': A federal regulation, in force throughout Canada except Quebec, that talks about how child support is calculated.
 
*'''Collaborative Settlement Processes''': A kind of negotiation in which the parties and their lawyers sign an agreement to do everything they can to resolve a family law dispute without going to court, often with the assistance of counsellors, child psychologists and financial experts.
 
*'''Consent Order''': An order that the parties to a court case agree the court should make.
 
*'''Contact with a Child''': The time a person who is not a guardian has with a child, usually fixed by a schedule. Contact is a term used in the provincial ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Court Case''': A court proceeding between two or more people. Also called an “action” or a “lawsuit”.
 
*'''Custody''': A parent’s right to have the child live in his or her home and to make decisions about the care of the child. Custody is a terms used in the ''Divorce Act''.
 
*'''Divorce''': The legal end of a marriage by a court order.
 
*'''''Divorce Act''''': A federal law that talks about divorce, custody of and access to children, child support and spousal support.
 
*'''Excluded Property''': Property owned by a spouse before the spouses began to live together or married, plus certain kinds of property received afterwards like gifts and inheritances, that is excluded from family property and normally remains the property of the owning spouse. Excluded property is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Family Debt''': Debt incurred by either or both spouses during their relationship, normally shared between both spouses. Family debt is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Family Property''': Property owned by one or both either or both spouses at the end of a relationship, normally shared between both spouses. Family property is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Family Court''': A division of the Provincial Court of British Columbia which deals with family law issues under the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Family Justice Counsellor''': A Family Court staff member trained in mediation and available to help with issues about the care and control of children, child support and spousal support.
 
*'''''Family Law Act''''': A provincial law that talks about guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child, child support, spousal support and the division of property and debt.
 
*'''Guardianship''': The right to make parenting decisions for a child and the right to get information from and give instructions to the important people involved in a child’s life, such as teachers, doctors, counsellors and coaches. Guardianship is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Hearing''': A formal meeting with a judge for a conference, to argue an application or for a trial.
 
*'''Interim Application''': An application for an interim order.
 
*'''Interim Order''': An order made after a court case has begun but before it has ended by a trial or a settlement. Interim orders are temporary and last until they are changed by another interim order or until trial or settlement.
 
*'''Litigation''': A process for resolving a dispute through the court system, which starts with service of the court forms stating the court case and describing the legal claims and concludes with the abandonment of the court by the person who started it, a settlement or a trial.
 
*'''Married Spouse''': Someone who has been legally married to someone else.
 
*'''Mediation''': A voluntary, formal bargaining process in which the parties try to resolve a family law dispute with the assistance of a neutral mediator.
 
*'''Negotiation''': A voluntary, informal process in which the parties try to resolve a family law dispute by bargaining with each other.
 
*'''Order''': The mandatory direction of a judge.
 
*'''Parent''': Someone who is the natural parent of a child, the adopted parent of a child a parent by assisted reproduction, or, in certain circumstances, a donor of eggs or sperm and a surrogate mother.
 
*'''Parental Responsibilities''': Decisions about the upbringing and care of a child made by the child’s guardians. Parental responsibilities is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Parenting Arrangements''': The arrangements made in an order or agreement for parental responsibilities and parenting time. Parenting arrangements is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Parenting Time''': A guardian’s time with a child, usually fixed by a schedule. Parenting time is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Payor''': Someone who is obliged to pay child support or spousal support to someone else, the “recipient,” as a result of a court order or an agreement.
 
*'''Property''': Anything that has value, such as a house, a bank account, a company, clothing, the contents of the family home and any other asset.
 
*'''Protection Order''': An order restricting a person's behaviour for the protection of someone else. Protection order is a term used in the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Separation''': The breakdown of a romantic relationship. Separation usually means that a couple have moved out and are living apart from each other, but it is possible to be separated and while continuing to live under the same roof.
 
*'''Separation Agreement''': A written agreement recording a settlement of some or all of the issues in a family law dispute.
 
*'''Settlement''': The resolution of a legal dispute on terms agreed to by the parties. May be recorded in a written agreement or in a consent order.
 
*'''Spousal Support''': Money paid by one spouse to the other, the "recipient", to help pay for that spouse’s living expenses.
 
*'''Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines''': An academic paper which describes mathematical formulas that can be used to calculate the amount of spousal support payable, when a spouse is entitled to receive it, and the length of time it should be paid for.
 
*'''Spouse''': A married spouse, under the ''Divorce Act'' the ''Family Law Act'', or an unmarried spouse, under the ''Family Law Act''.
 
*'''Stepparent''': Someone who is the spouse of a parent.
 
*'''Supreme Court''': British Columbia’s superior court which deals with family law issues under the common law, the ''Family Relations Act'' and the ''Divorce Act''.
 
*'''Recipient''': Someone who is entitled to receive child support or spousal support from someone else, the “payor,” as a result of a court order or written agreement.
 
*'''Trial''': The resolution of a court case by presenting evidence and argument to a judge.
 
*'''Unmarried Spouse''': A person who has lived with someone else in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. For the purpose of claims for spousal support, includes people who have lived together for less than two years and have had a child together.
 
==More information:==
 
*See other Dial-A-Law scripts in this family series for more detail.
 
*See also the wikibook ''JP Boyd on Family Law'', from Courthouse Libraries BC, which provides comprehensive information about family law, including links to the rules of court and court forms, at [[JP Boyd on Family Law]].
 
*Check the ''Family Law Act'' available at [http://www.bclaws.ca www.bclaws.ca].
 
*Also check the ''Divorce Act'' at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca.
 
  
 +
'''Child support''' is money paid by one parent to the other for the financial support of their child. We explain [[Child Support (No. 117)|child support in no. 117]].
  
[updated October 2014]
+
'''Spousal support''' is money one spouse pays to the other to help with expenses. We explain [[Spousal Support (No. 123)|spousal support in no. 123]].
  
 +
==Get help==
  
----
+
===With more information===
----
+
The wikibook '''''JP Boyd on Family Law''''', hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, provides comprehensive information on family law, including sample court forms and how-to information.
 +
:Web: [http://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/JP_Boyd_on_Family_Law wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca]
  
 +
The Legal Services Society's '''Family Law in BC website''' features self-help information for people in family disputes.
 +
:Web: [http://www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca/ familylaw.lss.bc.ca]
  
 +
{{Dial-A-Law_Navbox|type=families}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}
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[[Category:Dial-A-Law]]

Latest revision as of 10:55, 25 March 2019

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Renée Aldana, South Coast Law Group in October 2018.

Family law deals with legal issues that impact families. Family breakups, divorce, getting married, adoption, and family violence all fall within this area of law. Learn the basics of family law.

Understand the legal framework

Family law deals with family issues

Often, these issues involve couples that have been in a relationship and have now separated. But family issues can also involve people who have never been in a long-term relationship, like a couple who never dated but have a child together. They can involve people who have never been in a romantic relationship at all, like a grandparent who would like to spend time with or care for a grandchild.

In BC, family law applies to people in same-sex relationships exactly as it does to people in opposite-sex relationships. There is no legal difference between heterosexual relationships and gay and lesbian relationships.

This information provides an introduction to family law and the courts that deal with family law issues. It also defines some common legal words and phrases used in family law.

Common family law problems

When a couple separates, they must make many decisions. For example:

  • Does one spouse need financial support from the other spouse? Can the other spouse afford to pay it, and if so, how much and for how long?
  • Who will stay in the family home? Can everybody still live together, or does someone need to move out?
  • How will property be divided? How will debts be shared?
  • If there are children, where will they live? How will decisions about their care be made? How will the parents share time with the children?
  • Are the children entitled to ongoing financial support from a parent? If so, which parent should pay child support and what amount?

Different rules for different relationships

Family law deals with all of these decisions and more. But not all couples need to deal with all these issues. The decisions a couple must make and the law that applies change depending on the type of relationship the couple is in.

Family law involves four types of relationship:

  • Married spouses: Married couples are legally married and require a divorce to end their legal relationship.
  • Unmarried spouses: Unmarried spouses, also called common-law spouses, have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years. For spousal support claims, it includes people who have lived together for less than two years and have had a child together. Unmarried spouses don’t require a divorce to end their legal relationship. Their relationship ends when they separate.
  • Parents: Parents have had a child together and can be married spouses, unmarried spouses, in a dating relationship, or not in a relationship with each other at all. Parents can also be people who have had a child by adoption or assisted reproduction, or people who have helped a couple to have a child by assisted reproduction, by donating eggs or sperm, or by being a surrogate mother.
  • Child’s caregivers: People who have a significant role in a child’s life but aren’t the child’s parents.

Family law legislation

Family law involves two different laws that apply depending on the type of relationship in play.

Divorce Act

As a federal law, the Divorce Act applies throughout Canada. The Divorce Act only applies to people who are married to each other or who used to be married to each other.

Family Law Act

The Family Law Act is a BC law that applies to married spouses, unmarried spouses, parents, and a child’s caregivers. Not all of the Family Law Act applies to all of these relationships.

  • The parts that talk about child support and the care of the child apply to everyone.
  • The parts that talk about spousal support apply only to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who claim spousal support within two years of the date they separate.
  • The parts that talk about dividing property and debt only apply to married spouses and to unmarried spouses who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.

This chart shows which law applies to whom and for what purpose:

Married Spouses Unmarried Spouses Parents Child's Caregivers
Divorce X
Custody (Divorce Act) X
Access (Divorce Act) X
Guardianship (Family Law Act) X X X X
Parental responsibilities and parenting time (Family Law Act) X X X X
Contact with a child (Family Law Act) X X X X
Child support (Divorce Act) X
Child support (Family Law Act) X X X X
Spousal support (Divorce Act) X
Spousal support (Family Law Act) X X
Property and debt (Family Law Act) X X
Protection orders (Family Law Act) X X X X

Resolving family law issues

Family law issues can be resolved in ways that don’t involve going to court. Options include:

  • Negotiation: Where the parties discuss the issues to try to reach an agreement.
  • Mediation: Where the parties meet with a neutral person (a mediator), who helps them find a solution they agree on.
  • Collaborative practice: A kind of negotiation where each party has their own lawyer and agree they will do everything possible to reach a settlement without going to court.
  • Arbitration: Where the parties hire an arbitrator to act as their personal judge to make decisions about their dispute they will be bound by.

For more on alternatives to court, see our information on mediation and collaborative practice (no. 111).

If parties can’t resolve their problems using these approaches, they may have to go to court to have a judge resolve their problems.

Going to court

There are two courts that deal with family law issues, Family Court and Supreme Court.

Family Court is a division of the BC Provincial Court. It doesn’t charge court filing fees and its rules and forms are simplified for people who use the court. Family Court can deal only with issues under the Family Law Act, such as guardianship, child care, child support, and spousal support. For more on this court, see our information on Family Court (no. 110).

Supreme Court rules are more complicated and the court charges fees to file certain documents and schedule certain hearings. But Supreme Court can deal with issues under both the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act. So Supreme Court can deal with all the same issues as Family Court, plus divorce and the division of property and debt.

Supreme Court Family Court
Family Law Act X X
Divorce Act X
Divorce X
Custody (Divorce Act) X
Guardianship (Family Law Act) X X
Access (Divorce Act) X X
Parental responsibilitis and parenting time (Family Law Act) X X
Contact with a child (Family Law Act) X X
Child support X X
Spousal support X X
Property and debt X
Protection orders X X

Key words and phrases in family law

Here are definitions of some key words and phrases used in family law.

Separation is the breakdown of a romantic relationship. Separation usually means a couple have moved out and are living apart from each other, but it is possible to be separated while continuing to live under the same roof. See our information on separation and separation agreements (no. 115) and deciding who will move out (no. 116).

Divorce is the legal end of a marriage by a court order. We explain the requirements for divorce in no. 120.

Child is any person under the age of 19, the age of majority in British Columbia. It may include an adult child for the purposes of child support. The Divorce Act uses the term “child of the marriage”.

Parent is someone who is the birth parent of a child, the adopted parent of a child, a parent by assisted reproduction, or, in some cases, a donor of eggs or sperm and a surrogate mother.

Several terms are involved when talking of who the children should live with and how decisions about their care will be made. Under the Divorce Act, this is called custody. Under the Family Law Act, this is called parenting arrangements, which includes guardianship, parental responsibilities, and parenting time.

Guardianship is the right of a parent (or a person appointed by the court) to care for a child and have parental responsibilities. Parental responsibilities are decisions about the upbringing and care of a child made by the child’s guardians. Parenting time is a guardian’s time with a child, usually fixed by a schedule.

The time a person who is not a guardian has with a child is called contact under Family Law Act and access under the Divorce Act.

For more on these concepts involving care of the children, see our information on custody, guardianship and parenting arrangements and contact (no. 142).

Child support is money paid by one parent to the other for the financial support of their child. We explain child support in no. 117.

Spousal support is money one spouse pays to the other to help with expenses. We explain spousal support in no. 123.

Get help

With more information

The wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, provides comprehensive information on family law, including sample court forms and how-to information.

Web: wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca

The Legal Services Society's Family Law in BC website features self-help information for people in family disputes.

Web: familylaw.lss.bc.ca
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