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Top family law items to watch in 2013

Family law lawyer Pei-Shing Wang

By Pei-Shing Wang

Last year there had been a few interesting developments in the area of family law. However, many of them took place late in 2012 and were never concluded. Here is a list of items to watch in family law in 2013: 

Provisions for non-residents involving same-sex divorce: Many non-resident same-sex couples come to Canada to get married since same-sex divorce was legalized a decade ago. However, in cases where these marriages don’t work out, those involved quickly realize they are not eligible to apply for a divorce in Canada because they don’t meet the one-year residency requirement. In response to criticisms of same-sex couples being stuck in their rotten marriages unable to get a divorce, the federal government introduced Bill C-32 in February to allow dissolution of marriage for non-resident spouses. As of today, it has completed the first reading.

Sperm-donor offspring’s right to know their biological fathers: In December, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that there is no constitutional right to know one’s father. The applicant vowed to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. To date, no leave to appeal has been filed. However, that doesn’t prevent another applicant from trying to litigate in another province under another approach.

Civility in family law: In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that while lawyers have a duty to advance their clients’ relentlessly, they also have a duty to act courteously towards the administration of justice. Coincidentally, the discipline panel of Law Society of Upper Canada is currently mulling sanctions against a lawyer for incivility. What sanctions the lawyer would face remains to be seen.

U.K. set to legalize same-sex marriage: The British government has announced its intention to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. At the moment, same-sex couples are entitled to register for civil partnership, but not celebrate their marriage. Although the same-sex couples enjoy essentially the same rights and obligations to their opposite-sex counterparts, the difference in terminology creates confusion. The legalization of same-sex marriage will eliminate the legal confusion as to whether the U.K. civil partnership is or is not a marriage in Canada.

Modernization of court filing systems: In 2012, the B.C. government introduced electronic filing (e-filing) for all levels of the court system. In many other jurisdictions, e-filing has been the norm for many years. For example, Singapore has adopted e-fling since 2005, while our neighbour New York implemented state-wide e-filing in 2009. Will Ontario take a step towards e-filing in 2013?

ADR gaining visibility in family law: The Ontario Ministry of Attorney General introduced a new program encouraging litigants to mediate in family law matters in Toronto. Free mediation services are available in Toronto family court houses for individuals with matters on the docket, while a subsidy is provided to off-site family law mediation services. The government will pay a subsidy on a sliding scale depending on the users’ income level. Hopefully the program will prove to be a success and become available province-wide.

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