Family Law Trends 2023: Insights and Changes in B.C

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As another year draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time to revisit five of the topics we have covered on the blog throughout 2023 before taking a fresh look at new Family Law Act (FLA) changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the way couples divide their property when they split.

Child Support Myth-Busting

In this post, we looked at some of the myths that persist about one of family law’s most important yet most understood topics: child support.

Follow the link above to learn about some of the biggest misconceptions payors and recipients have about the issue, including an explanation of why child support is not optional, the not-so-simple relationship between your changing income and the size of your support payments and how terrible an idea it is to hide your income from your ex.

Grey Cohabitation Agreements

British Columbians are living longer than ever, and many are finding love as they do so. Read my blog to find out why those in older demographic groups have more reason than most to consider entering cohabitation agreements with their new beaus.

As I wrote back in April, seniors who couple up tend to have accumulated a much larger set of assets than their younger counterparts and often have children from previous relationships. Without the clarity a family law contract can bring, that combination is a recipe for messy family law or estate litigation.

Income for child support purposes

Child support was a popular topic this year. In June, my blog looked at the process for determining a person’s pre-tax income for child support purposes, which is not as simple as reading Line 15000 (previously Line 150) of a return field with the Canada Revenue Agency, especially where self-employed individuals are concerned.

The post focuses on allowable deductions from income, as well as those rarer circumstances where a person’s income may be adjusted upwards as a result of income replacement or worker’s compensation payments.

Property division: equal or equitable?

The default division of family property in B.C. is 50-50, but it’s not a guarantee. Click here to learn when an unequal share may be the fairer split.

Section 95 of the FLA gives judges the power to order an unequal division among spouses — including common-law couples — if an equal division “would be significantly unfair,” but, as I wrote in September, that is a high bar to meet, and the judge will need some convincing.

Court order compliance

In my most recent post, I explained that obtaining a court order is just part of the job for family law litigants. Having your former partner comply can sometimes be another ordeal altogether.

The good news, as you can read at the link above, is that court orders have teeth, since judges are empowered to punish non-compliance with a finding of contempt, imposition of a fine or even — in extreme cases — imprisonment.

Enforcement of child or spousal support is a little more straightforward, thanks to the B.C. Family Maintenance Agency, which has its own process for tracking support arrangements and collecting amounts owned on behalf of recipients.

Excluded property amendments

To finish the year, let’s look at amendments to the FLA that clarified what counts as “excluded property” in the family property calculation. Generally, these are the assets that one spouse owned before the relationship started, gifts and inheritances made exclusively to one spouse during the relationship, as well as certain kinds of insurance payouts or trust property.

For property division, when excluded property appreciates in value over the course of the relationship, only the increase in value must be shared between the parties on separation.

The new FLA amendments eliminated the “presumption of advancement,” a legal doctrine traditionally used to strip property of its excluded status when transferred from husband to wife.

In recent years, the principle has only caused uncertainty. The result is that excluded property now remains excluded, regardless of any transfer between spouses.

The changes took effect on May 11, 2023, and are not retroactive, which means that the new definitions will only apply to any legal proceedings about the division of property launched after that date. If you had filed a case in court before May 11 this year, your case will proceed under the old version of the law.

If you’re unsure which version of the law will apply in your case, feel free to contact me or another member of our family law team. Legal advice is a must following a legislative change like this one, since it’s likely the courts will be called on to settle disputes over its application in the near future.

In the meantime, I look forward to guiding you through the latest family law developments in B.C. in 2024. Happy holidays, and I will see you back here in the new year!

*This post is not intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Please contact McConnan Bion O’Connor & Peterson if you have any questions regarding this post or require assistance or legal advice regarding family law matters.