Conduct orders: Setting the rules of engagement post-separation

Almost every separation and divorce happens because people in the relationship do not agree on something. There is usually some form of conflict that takes place either because you have different perspectives on an issue or because one person resents the other.

It is very easy to say that everyone should “get along” with each other while your lives and families are reorganized. The reality of “getting along” is very difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible. However, the more people are able to communicate well and compromise, the faster and better the outcome will be for everyone.

The law recognizes this conflict inherent to family law and have created conduct orders as a means to reduce it. Division 5 of the Family Law Act of BC sets out what kind of conduct orders judges can make and what their purpose is. The law gives courts fairly broad powers to make any order they think is appropriate in the case before them in regards to conduct.

Conduct orders or conduct agreements are essentially rules about how you and your former partner are to engage with each other and your children (if you have them). Conduct orders can be mutual, meaning they apply to both people, or they may only apply to one person.

Conduct orders are often about communication and interactions between former partners. The most common conduct order is that parents communicate with each other in a courteous and respectful manner. The form of communication can also be specified, such as by email. Email can be a good way to communicate thoughtfully and in an organized manner if the parties are willing to be respectful while using it.

When children are involved, the primary focus of the courts are the children’s best interests. Judges know that when parents are able to reduce conflict and communicate in a healthy manner about the children, the children benefit. Children are able to pick up on conflict between parents even if they don’t hear any arguments.

Conduct orders can also set rules about where parties are allowed to go, and may look similar to the terms of protection orders. They can establish boundaries about attending schools, places of work, places of worship, and children’s activities. Conduct orders can, and often should, change throughout the divorce or separation process as the needs of the families evolve.

Protection orders are police enforceable, so judges need to be certain they are appropriate. Conduct orders are not police enforceable. Meaning, if your ex-partner does not follow a conduct order, they will not be arrested by the police for breach that order. Conduct orders are enforceable though, and the Family Law Act allows judges to order fines of up to $5,000 if one party breaches a conduct order.

Conduct orders have a “cooling off” effect after an emotionally charged separation. They can be built into separation agreements as well if both parties agree. If you feel that you and your former partner need some rules around how you treat each other, consider if conduct orders or agreements might help to improve your relationship.