As a follow up to my blog post: The New Family Law Act in BC: What you need to know – Property Division for Married and Unmarried Spouses, this post discusses parenting arrangements, previously known as custody and access, under the new Family Law Act.
Similar to the Family Relations Act, the new Family Law Act is still centered on the best interests of the child. The new Act, however, expressly states that, when making decisions involving the child, the best interests of the child should be the only consideration.
The best interests of the child test has also been expanded to include, among other factors:
- defining family violence;
- legislating risk factors considered in parenting cases involving violence; and
- making the safety of children a key goal of the best interests of the child test.
Parenting and Guardianship
The terms used to describe parents’ roles and responsibilities have changed from the adversarial terms: custody and access, to the term: guardianship. The change in terms is intended to encourage more flexibility when parents are determining their customized parenting arrangement.
Under the new Family Law Act, a child’s guardians are responsible for raising the child, providing day-to-day care and supporting the child’s well-being and development. As a result, one parent can no longer have sole custody of the children.
Under the new Act, both parents retain guardianship of their children after separation unless they agree, or the court orders, differently. Similar to the Family Relations Act, if parents are unable to agree on their parenting responsibilities after separation, they may apply for an order that defines:
- each guardian’s parenting time with the children;
- how decisions about a child and their health, education and upbringing will be made; and
- ways for guardians to address future disputes.
As well, the court may make contact orders to allocate time with a child to a non-guardian, such as a grandparent, where it is appropriate. This modification recognizes the role other parties’ play in a child’s life outside of the nuclear family.
When making parenting arrangements or contact orders, courts are guided by the best interests of the child and consider important factors, including family violence.
Enforcement of Parenting Arrangements
Another welcome change to the Family Relations Act is the inclusion of a range of remedies and tools to enforce agreements or orders for time with a child. A court will have the authority to impose a range of requirements for failure of a parent to comply, including for example, participation in family dispute resolution or counselling, reimbursement of expenses such as travel and child care costs and payment of a fine.
In circumstances where these remedies do not result in compliance, the court may consider more severe sanctions.