PROVINCE INTRODUCES FAMILY LAW OVERHAUL THAT WOULD PUT CHILDREN FIRST
– – – Child-support Crackdown, Modernized Parentage, Custody and Access Rules Included in Proposed Sweeping Rewrite of Legislation: Minister Mackintosh
A proposed sweeping rewrite of Manitoba’s laws governing enforcement of child and spousal support, parentage, child custody and access has been introduced to enhance the interests of children, Attorney General Gord Mackintosh announced today.
“The best interests of a child must always be the most important and often the only consideration in the area of family law. This is clearly entrenched within the proposed legislation, which would also include strong, new tools to collect child support from parents following separation or divorce,” said Minister Mackintosh. “The bill also responds to the need for provincial laws to keep pace with social and technological realities to avoid uncertainty and stress for families.”
Building on Manitoba’s efforts to fight child poverty by ensuring children are financially supported by their parents, the minister noted the bill proposes closing loopholes in relation to child-support that would enable:
posting online the names and photos of absconding debtors with outstanding arrest warrants to determine their whereabouts;
withholding of recreational hunting and fishing licences;
increasing the maximum compensatory payments for late or missed support payments to $5,000 from $500;
allowing a child to apply for child support;
withholding of the Manitoba enhanced identification card for entrance to the U.S.;
collecting security deposits for debtors in persistent arrears;
collecting related court costs on behalf of a parent; and
providing administrative corrections of math errors and enforceable support amounts to prevent parents having to return to court unnecessarily.
“Despite a 205 per cent increase in the number of paying parents in full compliance with their child support orders over the past 15 years, 40 per cent continue to default to some extent on their financial obligations to their children,” said Minister Mackintosh. “These changes would improve financial stability and the quality of life for the children of separated or divorced parents.”
The minister noted other changes that would ensure the best interests of the child include:
strengthening the express requirement for the child’s best interest to be the only consideration when dealing with custody, access or guardianship, and otherwise ensuring it is the most important consideration;
minimizing the impact of proceedings on children;
encouraging the use of alternative processes to court to minimize conflict and resolve disputes, and introducing the framework for a simplified court process especially where children are involved;
providing greater recognition of those who take on the role of a parent by allowing grandparents, step-parents or others to apply for custody;
introducing a new process, one of the first in Canada, to govern relocation of parents and children, and to help avoid court by confirming the need for notice to the other parent and providing an opportunity to object; and
implementing clear recognition of child status and parentage by setting out how parents are determined in situations of assisted reproduction, including surrogacy and posthumous conception, and recognizing the ability of a child to have more than two legal parents.
“Children deserve to have modern laws that determine parentage. This is important for a child’s cultural and historic identity, relationships and financial support including inheritance rights. While provincial law makes no judgment about the nature of parenting arrangements, it must nonetheless recognize the fact that family structures have changed over the years, particularly with advances in reproductive technologies,” said Minister Mackintosh. “These legislative changes would benefit all families including blended families, those with fertility issues and LGBT families.”
“The updated legislation put forward today acknowledges recognized changes in family structures and enhanced reproductive technologies, and enables that children’s best interest be taken into account across a diversity of family structures,” said Mike Tutthill, executive director, Rainbow Resource Centre. “This will help LGBT families and their children.”
Minister Mackintosh noted the new law would ensure that domestic violence concerns are taken into account in family law cases by enabling the court to waive the requirement for a notice to be issued in relocation cases when necessary to prevent exposure by one partner or spouse to domestic violence or stalking by another.
The new law would also allow a person to seek a court order preventing their spouse or partner from going to their residence, workplace or other location to prevent inappropriate conduct that legally falls short of domestic violence or stalking, the minister added.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation would also create a framework for a simplified, administrative family court process that would deal with matters such as consent declarations of parentage, consent child-support orders and other consent or procedural orders, the minister said.