On the Radar from CLEO
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Changes to family law

On March 1, 2021, several changes to family law took effect. Besides revising parenting terms and defining family violence, the changes say:

  • partners must think about using an alternative dispute resolution process or family dispute resolution process to resolve their issues out of court
  • courts must consider the more detailed best interests of the child test
  • parents with a court order about parenting must usually give notice before they move or relocate with their child

Ontario's family court forms have been revised to reflect these changes. People going to court must use the new forms as of March 1. Old forms won't be accepted after this date. CLEO's Family Law Guided Pathways can be used to complete the new family court forms.

This month's On the Radar looks at some of these changes.

Parenting terms

Parenting terms were changed to focus on the relationship a parent has with their child.

Old term: Custody

New term: Decision-making responsibility

The meaning of the term has not changed. Like custody, decision-making responsibility means having the legal right to make major decisions about how to care for and raise a child. It includes the right to make decisions about things like:

  • education
  • health care
  • religion
  • important extra-curricular activities

Decision-making responsibility is not about who the child lives with or how much time the child spends with each parent.

Old term: Access

New term: Parenting time

In most cases, the meaning of this term has not changed. Access used to mean the time a parent spends with a child they don't usually live with. Now this is called parenting time.

Parenting time is the time that a child spends in the care of a parent. All parents usually have parenting time now. It's not just the parent the child doesn't usually live with.

New term: Contact order

Now, a person who is not a parent or step-parent, might get a contact order to spend time with a child. For example, a grandparent can ask the court for a contact order.

Out-of-court options

The new rules say that if it's suitable, people must think about using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or a family dispute resolution process to resolve their issues out of court. ADR might not be an option in situations where:

  • one person is afraid of another person because there's a history of family violence
  • there are serious mental health or drug abuse issues

Move or relocate with a child

Parents can usually move without anyone's permission if the move is not likely to have a big impact on the child's relationship with anyone who has decision-making responsibility, parenting time, or a contact order.

A move that's likely to have a big impact on anyone with these rights is called a relocation. For example, moving to another province or country is usually a relocation.

The new rules say that if there is a court order about parenting, the parent planning to relocate with a child must give notice to the other parent:

  • using a specific form, and
  • at least 60 days before they plan to relocate

If the other parent does not agree with the relocation, they must object within 30 days of getting the notice or start a court case. A parent cannot relocate with the child without permission from the other parent or a court order.

Best interests of the child test

The new rules say that all parents must act in the best interests of the child when making decisions for and spending time with their child.

When deciding parenting time and decision-making responsibility, the court now has to consider a more detailed list of factors about the best interests of the child. The most important factor is the child's physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being.

Family violence

Family violence is now defined to include psychological and financial abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse. It also includes indirect exposure to abuse. For example, this could be a child who is not abused, but who sees a family member being abused.

In cases involving family violence, the court now has to think about:

  • how the violence affects a parent's ability to care for the child, and
  • whether it's suitable to make a parenting order that requires parents to co-operate with each other
This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.

March 2021

Related resources

The Divorce Act changes explained
Government of Canada

Ontario family court forms
Government of Ontario

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