If you are separated or in the process of getting a divorce, there are upcoming changes to the Divorce Act in Canada that might matter to you, including amendments to child protection, support and custody. Georgia Swan, Tax and Estate Planner with TD Wealth, joins Kim Parlee, to discuss how and when these changes could affect you.
- If you are getting a divorce, there are some upcoming changes to the Divorce Act in Canada that might matter to you. Georgia Swan is a tax and estate planner with TD Wealth. She joins us from Barrie, Ontario, for this Ask MoneyTalk. And Georgia, the question is, when do changes to the Divorce Act come into effect? What are they and how will they affect my divorce?
- Well first of all, the changes were supposed to come into effect as of July 1, 2020. But because of the pandemic, it's been delayed until March 1 of 2021. Because the changes are to the Divorce Act, that means it's federal legislation, so they're applicable to all provinces across Canada.
- There are some buckets of changes, I'd say, that we can look at when we're talking about this. And the first one is something called promoting the best interests of the child. What does that mean in this context?
- Well basically, the changes that have to do with that particular issue are geared towards looking at all of the things that affect children and maintaining and doing the best for their psychological, their physical, their safety, all of their needs, including the spiritual needs, heritage. Indigenous heritage has also become an important part of that.
We're getting away from adversarial language where we used to talk about custody and access. We're talking about parenting. We're including the children, if they are of an age to be able to make their wishes known. And we're trying to make sure with this new legislation that children continue to have access and we continue to foster the relationships with the important people in their lives-- grandparents, siblings, of course, the two parents or more than two parents sometimes, and other friends or family members that have been important in the child's life.
- The second bucket, a hard one to talk about, but very important and nice to see these changes, something around addressing family violence.
- Absolutely. When there has been violence in the family, that's going to become a bigger issue to look at when deciding what is best for the children, what's best for the two parents, what's best for the family. It's going to become a factor now in determining what the outcome of these relationships is going to be.
- In terms of the next piece, addressing-- and this is interesting-- access to justice and efficiency of the courts. And for people who've been involved in the family court system, there's a lot of demand and not a lot of supply. And efficiency is hard in complex situations. So what do they plan on doing?
- Well, I guess one of the most common times when people used to have to go back to court over and over again had to do with changes to child support amounts, because those change according to the income of the payor, and sometimes of the payee if something happens. So a lot of times, if the parties couldn't agree on a change, or if one party, for example, wasn't forthcoming with their information so that adjustments could be made, the parties ended up in court.
Now a lot of these changes are going to allow the provincial enforcement bodies-- so for example, in Ontario, it's the Family Responsibility Office-- to actually access information directly from the Canada Revenue Agency, for example, with respect to people's income and make those changes to child support directly. So now the parties are not going to have to go through the courts for that.
There's also been some changes about how the parties or whether the parties have to access courts in two jurisdictions if, for example, they live in different provinces. Now they may only have to access the court in one of the provinces. So we're trying, and these are steps towards fixing those issues of efficiency and getting into court if you have to.
- Let me ask. If there is somebody who already has a divorce, has something in place, either an agreement or something that's come from the court, does this new Divorce Act affect them?
- Probably not. If they already have a full divorce, if they've gone through the entire process and they've finished the process, then this may not affect them, except, as I said before, on a go forward basis, if there have to be amendments to the child support amount, they'll be able to avail themselves of the process of not having to go to court and getting the local enforcement authorities, family enforcement authorities, to be able to deal with those changes.
This is really sort of forward thinking for people that are in the middle of the process, or by next year for people that are just starting out.
- And if you are somebody who is in the process of getting a divorce, never a fun time, what should you do right now?
- First and foremost, you need to get good legal advice. You need to get into a lawyer's office or get on the phone and speak to a lawyer about what your obligations and responsibilities are. Because until you know that, it can be a pretty daunting thing.
And once you do, at least then you have a plan. You know what you need. Your lawyer might be asking you for information that you have to get together. So in this case, knowledge really is power. So get in and speak to a lawyer so that they can advise you as to what's the best course of action for you and your family.
- Georgia, thanks so much.
- Thank you.
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