COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown that resulted has taken its toll on families. We know that the rates of domestic violence have increased as women and children have been forced to stay home from work and school – and abusers have been emboldened because of this. As a result, many experts expect to see an increase in the number of women that file for divorce starting as early as this fall when these women start to feel comfortable leaving their homes again.
Before the lockdown, reforms to the Divorce Act were underway. These reforms, which were supposed to go into effect on July 1st of this year, have subsequently been postponed until March of 2021 – not in time for those who file for divorce in the final quarter of this year. Individuals filing for divorce during that time will still have to file under the pre-reform Divorce Act.
What reforms are being made to the Divorce Act?
The upcoming reforms to the Divorce Act will be applied to married couples only. They primarily center around child custody, parenting decisions, and what is in the best interest of the child. For the first time, courts will be compelled to consider any incidents of violence within the family, including controlling or coercive behaviour, which also includes factors that the courts do not often consider, such as economic abuse or control and even threats or violence toward pets.
Why are the reforms being delayed?
The official reason for the delay in the reforms has to do with the pandemic and lockdown. The family courts were shut down at the start of the pandemic, and now that they are open, they are only taking the most urgent of cases for the time being.
The reforms were postponed after the federal government held consultations with the provinces and territories who, according to Justice Minister, David Lametti, needed time to adjust their legislation to the reforms.
What effect will the delay to these reforms have on Canadians?
Although family courts in Ontario already take domestic abuse very seriously and have even started to adapt some of the principles of the reforms, the delay means that courts may not consider some of the more expansive definitions of violence set out by the reforms.
As restrictions related to the pandemic begin to lift, it is expected that we will see an onslaught of women filing for divorce as they leave abusive relationships. Without the reforms to the Divorce Act in place, some of these women may be disappointed to see how judges are interpreting the law when it comes to child custody and parenting decisions.
Filing for divorce? Contact me today.
If you are considering filing for divorce and you would like to learn more about how the reforms (and the delay to those reforms) to the Divorce Act may affect you, contact me today. I can review your case and advise you to help make the process go as smoothly as possible.