18 November 2011

The Early and Unlamented Deaths of ss. 90 and 120.1:
Government takes quick action on parental support and unmarried persons' property agreements

I've had the opportunity to take a more in depth reading of the transitional and repeal provisions of the Family Law Act, largely as a result of some issues brought to my attention by Nate Russell of Courthouse Libraries BC.

The nuts and bolts of the new Family Law Act run from ss. 1 to 244. The government's power to make the host of new regulations the act will require runs from ss. 245 to 249. The transitional provisions — the sections which guide the changes from the old Family Relations Act to the new Family Law Act — are brief and run from ss. 250 to 256. The really dry stuff, about the other laws that will be changed or repealed to accommodate the new act run from s. 257 all the way through to s. 482 and are dreadfully dry reading. This is, however, where you can find the really interesting things which motivated the call from Nate.

At the end of the act, further to s. 482, is a table showing which parts of the act come into force upon the act receiving Royal Assent which will come into force down the road by Order in Council. As readers will recall, the Attorney General has announced that implementation of the act will take 12 to 18 months. However, a close look at the table shows that some parts of the act will come into effect the moment the bill receives Royal Assent, two or three days after it clears Third Reading, and won't need to wait for the eventual Order in Council. (Read my post "The Present Effect of the Proposed Family Law Act" for a brief discussion about how a bill becomes law.) An acquaintance at the Attorney General's office has confirmed that this is indeed the intention behind s. 482.

Apart from some minor housekeeping changing references to "husband and wife" to "spouse," the provisions coming into effect right away will:
  • make the Land (Spouse Protection) Act available to unmarried spouses,
  • repeal the provisions of the Family Relations Act for parental support (s. 90), and
  • repeal other provisions relating to the effect of property agreements between unmarried couples (s. 120.1).

The last point is the most important, I think, although frankly the repeal of parental support is a close runner up. (Read my post "Parental Support in British Columbia" for an explanation of this subject.)

If you go back to my post "Why you DON'T want a cohabitation agreement," you'll see a long explanation about how s. 120.1 made the property rules applicable to married couples applicable to unmarried couples who had the misfortune to make an agreement about property. This meant that cohabitation agreements were usually very bad for the person owning property, as they could produce a far worse result than the worst case result without an agreement.

The repeal of s. 120.1 now means that unmarried couples can go ahead and enter into property agreements now before the rest of the Family Law Act comes into effect without getting caught by the unexpected and frankly counterintuitive consequences of s. 120.1. In other words, unmarried couples can make an agreement now to avoid the property sharing provisions of the new act without worrying about the negative consequences of the old act.

My thanks again to Nate for pointing this out.