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How Does The FRA Differ From The Canadian Divorce Act?


Question: How Does The FRA Differ From The Canadian Divorce Act?

The Family Relations Act is the BC law that covers child custody, guardianship, access, spousal and child support, and the division of property, including pensions.

Answer: What's Covered:

The Family Relations Act ("FRA") is a statute passed by the British Columbia government. Compared to the Divorce Act of Canada, it is both broader and narrower. Narrower, because it does not deal with divorce, the legal end to a marriage. (In Canada, marriage and divorce are the constitutional responsibility of the federal government.) Broader, because in addition to issues involving custody, access and support, the FRA also deals with division of property, restraining orders, orders preventing disposition of assets, and orders for the exclusive occupation of the family home, among other things. In most cases, therefore, in order to obtain the fullest range of relief to cover all of the issues arising out of the marriage, a family where the spouses are married will have to deal with both the Divorce Act and the FRA.

Choosing Between the FRA and the Divorce Act:

For married couples, it is possible to start a legal proceeding under one Act and then later start another legal proceeding under the other Act. You won't get double relief (such as twice as much child support), but be aware of the possibility. For example, a person hesitant for religious reasons to start a proceeding under the Divorce Act will be able to obtain all the relief she needs under the FRA, except, of course, for the divorce. Usually, though, it is most cost-effective to include claims under both statutes in just the divorce proceeding.

What About Unmarried Couples?:

Families where the spouses are not married to one another will not be able to use the Divorce Act at all. Those families will have to rely solely on the FRA (to deal with custody, access and support) and the general law of trusts (to deal with property division). The property division parts of the FRA don't apply to unmarried couples.

Choice of Court:

If you start a proceeding under the Divorce Act, you are required to bring the proceeding in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which is the senior trial court in that province. If you start a proceeding under the FRA, though, and limit your claim to custody, access or guardianship, a no-contact order, or support, then you can bring your claim in the Provincial Court of British Columbia. If you're claiming property division under the FRA, though, you'll have to bring the action in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The difference between the two courts lies in the area of expense and time. The procedure in the Provincial Court (also called Family Court) is simpler and usually quicker than the procedure in the Supreme Court of B.C. The simplicity can come at a cost of information, though. There are more tools under Supreme Court procedure to find information about your spouse's side of the claim than there are under Provincial Court. But particularly if you don't need a divorce or don't need to deal with property division, or you want to deal with custody/access or support without hiring a lawyer, bringing your claim in Provincial Court can be a real time- and money-saver.

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