22 March 2011

Justice Education Society Launches Online Parenting After Separation Program

On 21 March 2011 the Justice Education Society, formerly the Law Courts Education Society, launched an online version of the Parenting After Separation program, available through the Families Change website. I've taken a look at the online PAS program and it's a pretty impressive effort. Even more impressively, JES says that they're expecting to have a similar online program available in Punjabi and Cantonese or Mandarin by the end of April.

The PAS program is a mandatory part of the court process in the Abbotsford, Campbell River, Chilliwack, Courtney, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Penticton, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver, Vernon and Victoria registries of the provincial court. It is intended to teach parents about how children experience separation, how parents can protect children from the conflict, and how parents can make decisions which put their children's interests first. I recommend the program to all parents who are thinking of separating, not just those involved in litigation in the provincial court.

The Attorney General's website has a list of locations (PDF) where the PAS program is offered live, a brochure (PDF) for the program, and the program handbook in English, French, Chinese and Punjabi (PDF).

Update: 25 March 2011

And the news gets better yet. JES is looking for people to evaluate their online Parenting After Separation program. The first fifty people will be paid $50 for completing the online program, including the final exam, and filling out an evaluation form.

This is how it works:
  1. visit www.familieschange.ca starting today,
  2. click on the icon for the online Parenting After Separation program,
  3. click the REGISTER button and provide your name and telephone number,
  4. complete the course and take the final exam,
  5. fill out the online evaluation form after the final exam, and
  6. answer a few follow questions by telephone and provide a mailing address for your cheque.
Please address any questions to Kevin Smith at kevin.smith@justiceeducation.ca.

13 March 2011

Becoming Common-Law

Important Update: The Family Law Act was introduced on 14 November 2011 and contains a number of provisions which are critical to the comments made in this post. See my posts "The Early and Unlamented Deaths of ss. 90 and 120.1: Government takes quick action on parental support and unmarried persons' property agreements" and "Family Law Act Introduced!" for more information.

I was looking at one of the forums which links to my website, and a user had posted a question which reminded me of the prevalence of bad information about common-law relationships: "how do I apply for common-law status?" I think it's time for a refresher.

Being "common-law" is all about qualifying as a spouse as defined by a particular law.

Different laws have different definitions of "spouse."

Under the federal Divorce Act, "spouse" means someone who is or was legally married to someone else; under the Canada Pension Plan, a "common-law partner" means someone who lived in a conjugal relationship with the pension contributor for at least one year.

Under the provincial Family Relations Act, "spouse" is defined as including married people as well as unmarried people who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. Under the Employment and Assistance Act, the law about welfare benefits, "spouse" includes people who have lived together for at least three months if the relationship demonstrates some sort of interdependence.

As a general rule of thumb, most federal laws define "spouse" or "partner" as including unmarried people who have lived together for at least one year and most provincial laws define "spouse" as including unmarried people who have lived together for at least two years.

Qualifying as a spouse may give you benefits and obligations under a particular law.

A "spouse" under the Family Relations Act is entitled to use the act to apply for spousal support (or may be obliged to pay it), and someone who is the "spouse" of a parent may be obliged to pay child support in respect of the parent's children.

A "spouse" under the Wills Variation Act is entitled to use the act to apply to change the distribution of benefits set out in a person's will. A "common law spouse" under the Estate Administration Act is entitled to an automatic share in the estate of someone who dies without a will.

A "partner" under the Canada Pension Plan is entitled to share in someone's pensionable credits and may be entitled to survivor's benefits in the event of that person's death.

The definition of spouse usually has conditions and limits.

For unmarried couples, applications under the Family Relations Act must be made within one year of separation. After that, they will no longer be a "spouse" within the definition of the legislation. Married couples, on the other hand, must make their applications under the act within two years of divorce or the annulment of their marriage.

The Wills Variation Act and the Estate Administration Act both define a "spouse" as someone who was living with the deceased person immediately before his or her death. If the couple separated before the the person's death, they won't qualify as spouses.

The Divorce Act only defines "spouse" as including married or formerly married couples. Unmarried couples can't use this act for anything.

Being common-law is only about the definition of spouse.

Common-law spouses only become common-law spouses because they happen to meet the terms of a particular law's definition of "spouse," which usually happens because they cohabited in a marriage-like relationship for a specific period of time. They don't apply for common-law status; there's no government agency to apply to and there's no government agency that keeps track of common-law relationships.

Common-law spouses aren't legally married and will never become married, no matter how long the relationship lasts... unless of course they actually get married, with a marriage licence, a marriage commissioner and all the rest.


A couple become common-law spouses when they meet a particular law's definition of "spouse." Meeting a law's definition of spouse usually involves (a) living together (b) in a romantic relationship (c) for a certain amount of time. No application is necessary, just the passage of time. The definition of spouse changes from law to law.

Most but not all federal laws define "spouse" as including unmarried people who have lived together for at least one year; most but not all provincial laws define "spouse" as including unmarried people who have lived together for at least two years.

Being common-law spouses doesn't mean that a couple is married; it means that the spouses may have certain rights and duties toward each other. The nature of these rights and duties also changes from law to law, and some laws impose terms and conditions on the rights and duties unmarried spouses.

08 March 2011

Public Commission on Legal Aid Releases Report

The Public Commission on Legal Aid in British Columbia, a joint project of the Law Society of British Columbia and the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia, the Law Foundation and other groups, has released its Final Report (PDF) today.

In this report, the Commissioner, prominent Vancouver lawyer Len Doust Q.C., summarizes the history of legal aid in this province, from its establishment in the early 1970s to the critical budget cuts which began under Gordon Campbell's stewardship in 2002, the evidence gathered since the commission was established in June 2010, and finds that:
"Based on the evidence presented to me, I cannot come to any conclusion other than the services provided in British Columbia today are too little, their longevity or consistency too uncertain. This result is the consequence of the cutbacks and lack of sufficient and consistent financing, even though LSS has done its very best, and in my view has done everything possible, to accommodate the needs within their limited budgetary restrictions."
Mr. Doust reaches a number of specific conclusions about the current state of legal aid. To quote from the report:
  • The legal aid system is failing needy individuals and families, the justice system, and our communities.
  • Legal information is not an adequate substitute for legal assistance and representation.
  • Timing of accessing legal aid is key.
  • There is a broad consensus concerning the need for innovative, client-focused legal aid services.
  • Steps must be taken to meet legal aid needs in rural communities.
  • More people should be eligible for legal aid.
  • Legal aid should be fully funded as an essential public service.
The Commission's nine recommendations are these:
  1. "The Legal Services Society Act," the legislation which establishes the Legal Services Society, the organization which provides legal aid in BC, "should be amended to include a statement clearly recognizing legal aid as an essential public service."
  2. "A new approach to defining core public legal aid services and priorities should be developed which merges the traditional legal categories approach (e.g., criminal law, family law, and poverty law) with an approach based on the fundamental interests of the most disadvantaged clients, where the need is most pressing and the benefit is likely to be the greatest."
  3. "Financial eligibility criteria should be modified so that more needy individuals qualify for legal aid."
  4. Regional legal aid centres should be established and "legal aid service delivery should be modeled on evidence-based best practices, which take into account the needs of economically disadvantaged clients for lasting outcomes and the geographic and cultural barriers they face in accessing public services."
  5. "Justice system stakeholders ... should continue to take steps to expand public engagement and political dialogue on the urgent need to renew the legal aid system in British Columbia."
  6. "The provincial and federal governments must increase funding for legal aid and provide this funding through a stable, multi-year granting process."
  7. "The legal aid system should be more proactive, dynamic and strategic in its approach."
  8. "Mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between public legal aid providers and private service providers ... should be established on both a province-wide and regional basis."
  9. "Steps should be taken to develop, support, and recognize community advocates, legal advocates, paralegals, and lawyers who provide both public and private legal aid services in order to ensure the quality of these services."
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I support all of Mr. Doust's recommendations unequivocally; it will also come as no surprise that Attorney General Barry Penner takes a different view, as the Globe and Mail has recently reported. The problem likely comes down to the money the federal and provincial governments are prepared to devote to the justice system versus its major funding competitors, health care, education and corporate tax cuts.

05 March 2011

The Revenge of Facebook, Part III

CBC has reported on a survey of American divorce lawyers which found that Facebook ("Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life") had been cited in 1 in 5 US divorce cases and that the number of people using social media to conduct affairs seems to be on the rise.

In a dramatic but slightly bizarre press release titled "Don't Let Your Marriage be Among the 1 in 5 Destroyed by Facebook" issued by Loyola University commenting on the survey, clinical psychologist Steven Kimmons is quoted as saying that "improper use" of Facebook can "quickly devolve into marital disaster." The press release then offers some "safeguards" that must be intended for people with exceptionally poor impulse control:
  1. Look at how you use social media to see whether you talk to more men or more women and whether there is a certain type of person you prefer chatting with. "That can tell you something about how you’re using social networks. You may not even be aware that you’re heading down a road that can quickly get pretty dangerous."
  2. Set limits from the get go. "Spell out from the beginning with your online contacts what your expectations are of social networking relationships."
  3. Don't get naughty with your online friends. "It’s a good idea to not engage in intimate conversation with someone who is not your spouse." Duh.
  4. Share passwords with your spouse and "place the computer in a common area in the house or apartment." Like you would with an irresponsible teenager.
Hey, I'm on Facebook; drop me a line.

Update: 27 June 2014

Actually, I'm not on Facebook and haven't been for two or three years. If you need to find me, Google will tell you where to go.