Monday was wedding day for a lot of B.C. couples who never planned to get married. The province’s new Family Law Act took effect on Monday and declared that all couples in common-law relationships for two years or more have the same rights and obligations as married people.
That means the shiny new Mustang you bought last month is common property and your partner owns half of it. And that $4,000 Visa balance your partner ran up the month before is half yours.
Alarming as that news is for people who wanted to stay unmarried, the act is a much-needed updating of the 1979 Family Relations Act.
The law now says that both married and common-law couples share any property that was acquired after the relationship began. In the past, married couples shared all property, even what they brought into the relationship.
Children are a major focus of the legislation. Under its terms, the best interests of the child will be the only consideration in figuring out arrangements if there is a separation. It also imposes fines for people who deny the other parent his or her time with a child.
When there is a separation, the law encourages meditation and other methods that keep the discussions out of the courts. This will help the overloaded court system, reduce the cost and potentially ease the acrimony.
Learning from cases like the Peter Lee murder-suicide, the government has strengthened the means of protecting family members from violence. In the past, someone who threatened violence could be subject to a civil restraining order. Now they will be slapped with protection orders, which carry criminal penalties.
These and other provisions bring an important part of our law into the 21st century.
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