As of July 1 there will be major changes to family law in Manitoba.
For decades our family law has been governed by The Family Maintenance Act, covering a number of separated spouse and parent issues such as declaration of parentage, custody of and access to children, exclusive occupation of homes, spousal support and child support.
That Act will be repealed on July 1. Our two new pieces of legislation are The Family Law Act and The Family Support Enforcement Act.
The new Family Law Act copies the new Divorce Act by doing away with the words "custody" and "access". Separated parents will ask the court for "parenting time" and "decision-making responsibility". Often the idea of one parent getting sole custody or primary care and control can feel like a "win". The other parent who is given "access" to their own child, or "secondary periods of care" can feel like they've lost something. Instead, deciding which parent has what parenting time allows a child to feel like they still have two parents who are important to their lives. Parents having decision-making responsibility is also meant to sound more neutral.
In practice one parent may still have the majority of the parenting time, and one parent may be allowed only supervising parenting time, but the old "custody" terms are abolished.
Also new to The Family Law Act are provisions allowing for step-parents or other family members who stand in the place of a parent to seek parenting time or decision-making responsibility for a child. It also allows for grandparents and other family and non-family members to apply to the court for an order allowing them contact with a child. This contact can mean in-person time but can also mean getting letters, phone calls and photos.
Manitoba has adopted the rules in the new Divorce Act with respect to relocating a child. A parent who wants to move away with a child has to give written notice to anyone else who plays a significant role in the child's life. If the other parent or anyone having contact with the child provides a written objection to the move, the request to move has to go to court for the Judge to make a decision.
The Family Law Act creates duties for separated parents to make use of out-of-court dispute resolution processes and for lawyers to encourage the use of them. It creates duties for the court to conduct proceedings with as little delay and formality as possible and in a way that minimizes conflict. Parents and the court have a duty to protect children from domestic violence.
The Family Support Enforcement Act is a separate Act. It does away with the term "maintenance" and instead uses the word "support".
One interesting change in the new Support Enforcement Act is that an application for child support can be made by either parent or the child. This law would be used in cases where a child is over the age of eighteen but in need of financial support while they pursue a post-secondary education. Under the previous legislation if both parents decided they did not want to help their adult child with the cost of university, then neither would apply to the court for a support order. The child would have no options.
The new Act enhances the powers of the Maintenance Enforcement Program. It can now collect court costs and also support ordered by family arbitration if the award is different from a court order.
The changes to the law will not affect any court orders currently in place. If a parent has a sole custody order, he or she will still have sole custody. However for cases still in court, as of July 1st Judges in Manitoba will have to make new orders that use the new terminology and comply with the two new Acts.