Would you share your property 50/50 if you broke up?
The Family Law Act will transform the law applying to couples and families in BC. One of the biggest changes is that common law couples (those who have lived together for more than two years, but are not married) will now have the same property rights that married people have. If they separate, each person will be entitled to 50% of the family property - something that till now has not been the case. In addition, each person will be responsible for 50% of the family debt - even credit card debts in the name of only one of them!
The only way for queer couples NOT to be liable to divide their family property if they break up will be to have a cohabitation, or marriage agreement. This is the opt-out choice if you don't like the property regime under the Family Law Act. I have always recommended cohabitation agreements: it is the way for partners to decide what is right for them, rather than relying on the default provisions of the law. While many people find it 'unromantic' to talk about such things at the beginning of a relationship, it is guaranteed to be much harder to do if the relationship ends! (There is an Out/Law guide for people thinking about a cohabitation agreement: "Living Together - Some Questions to Consider")
Good news for same sex parents who conceive with known donors
A positive development for same sex parents is that sperm or egg donors will have no legal rights or responsibilities with respect to the child. This is hugely important for children conceived with assisted reproduction, and their parents. It removes any possibility that a sperm donor might change his mind and sue for custody or access.
It will continue to be necessary for the non-biological parent to adopt the child her or his partner is biologically related to. Though both same sex parents can be named on a child's birth certificate, that is only 'evidence' but not 'proof' of a child's parentage.
In a separation, the only consideration in deciding about the future ofa child will be the best interests of the child. It remains to be seen how that will be interpreted. And there are new mechanisms to enforce agreements or orders about when each parent spends time with a child.
The Family Law Act has a new emphasis on ways to resolve family issues without going to court, including mediation, parenting coordination, or arbitration. This is a welcome development since court always increases bitterness between the parties, which is especially harmful if there are children.
There are also new provisions to address violence in the home.
What about you?
Changes in the law WILL apply to relationships already begun. So, if you are in a relationship of more than two years, the law that applies if you break up will be different than it was when you entered the relationship. Be proactive: make your own decisions about what you want the financial aspects of your relationship to be, both while you are together, and if you separate. Otherwise you will find yourself in a situation you didn't plan for and don't want, with a judge making decisions instead of you.