Proposed changes in Canadian family law are a big step forward for children’s rights in Canada. If passed, Bill 78 will make the Best Interests of the Child the only principle for decisions on parental arrangements in divorce cases. Criteria for determining the best interests of the child reflect Convention principles, including a legal requirement to consider the views of affected children. This is the first time that the Article 12 duty to consider the views of children is being incorporated into Canadian law. In addition to advocating for this, a CCRC submission argued that there are good practices available; they can become standard practice. Public legal education will be essential to implement the new law well.
In addition to making the best interests of the child a central principle, proposed changes will also:
- require that judges and lawyers pay more attention to domestic violence, including impacts for children;
- encourage use of less adversarial legal processes to settle disputes;
- strengthen financial support tools to help reduce the high levels of poverty for children after divorce; and
- expand the use of unified family court processes to reduce delays and costs for families.
While more detailed examination of specific provisions is required, the CCRC welcomes this initiative, which puts children at the center of the law and responded to most of the recommendations in our earlier submission. The bill will now be considered by parliament.
The CCRC notes that this is a culture change in family law. A strong program of public education and cooperation by all parties will be important for effective implementation.