Alberta joining ‘modern times’ with new child-support rules

The law updates the archaic 1922 Married Women’s Act.
The law updates the archaic 1922 Married Women’s Act.

The Alberta government recently introduced a new bill that would give non-married couples the same rights that married couples have after a breakup.

“Bill 28 would change the Matrimonial Property Act to make it easier for unmarried partners to divide their property if their relationship breaks down,” according to the web site, which outlines the new rules.

No longer would there be a difference between different types of legal unions, said the site, and the law would “make it clear that all parents can apply for child support for their adult children with disabilities — regardless of their marital status.”

If passed, this would bring Alberta’s property-division rules into “modern times” and would no longer mean couples who are ending a relationship would have to endure expensive court battles for child support.

"What that means is that trials are long, costly and involve a demeaning exercise of having the person who’s claiming property division — which has always been, of course, the less economically-powerful partner — having to prove that they’re entitled to some share of the property," said Laurie Allen, partner at the Allen Hryniuk Law Firm in Calgary to the CBC.

“People deserve clear and consistent rules that treat all couples fairly,” said Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley during a press conference announcing the new reality.

The law updates the archaic 1922 Married Women’s Act, and Alberta will join British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Saskatchewan as other provinces who have already recognized “adult interdependent partners” in a relationship.

Under the new rules, interdependent means a couple has lived together in a relationship at least three years (or less if they share a child), and they “are emotionally committed to one another.”

In Ontario, the rules specify that “spousal support is generally calculated the same way it is for married couples, although married couples would claim support under the Divorce Act,” according to Feldstein Family Law Group P.C.

“Both are calculated using the Child Support Guidelines, regardless of whether the support claim is made under the Divorce Act (which applies only to married couples) or the Family Law Act.”

Common-law couples in B.C. are also considered the same as married couples, according to Davidson Fraese Family Lawyers in Vancouver. “Where an unmarried couple has children, each spouse has the same parental rights as a married couple in respect of the children. The laws used to decide who should be a guardian of a child, parenting arrangements, and access to the children are the same for all parents.”

And in Quebec, the new Coalition Avenir Quebec government promises to update its laws, considering 60 per cent of children born in the province each year are to unmarried couples.

“Quebec is the only province where separated common-law partners cannot seek support payments for themselves from their ex-partners. They are only eligible for basic child-support payments, which can create a financial imbalance that affects children,” said Linda Goupil, former justice minister under Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government and currently practising at Lagacé, Goupil and Lacasse.

And it’s about time for Alberta to join other provinces, said Frank Friesacher, Canadian Bar Association president, Alberta Branch.

“The Canadian Bar Association has long expressed concern about the legislative gap in Alberta relating to the distribution of property when unmarried couples separate. While court remedies have been available, the process and results can be inconsistent and complicated, with increased conflict and cost for the parties. This bill creates predictable rules to increase clarity, thereby being a significant advance towards improving access to justice.”

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