When things fall apart
Proposal changes way courts deal with divorce and division of assets

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 14/97) - The NWT cabinet has introduced four family law bills to replace outdated and inconsistent laws governing divorce, child custody, adoptions and other family issues.

A six-MLA committee is now touring the NWT, seeking public input on the bills. As part of our coverage, NewsNorth begins a four-part look at the proposed legislation. This week: the Family Law Act.

The Family Law Act will affect couples who separate or divorce. The act defines spouses as both common-law and married, but does not extend to same-sex couples.

The bill makes provisions for domestic contracts, spousal support and division of property. It also encourages mediation as an optional alternative to court appearances.

MLA Michael Miltenberger said his main concern over this bill is to "Come up with a way to produce quick and timely responses in court." He cited the example of disgruntled spouses tying up valuable court time simply to avoid making child support payments.

MLA Floyd Roland echoed Miltenberger's concerns. "So much time is tied up in the process of decision-making, there needs to be some support there," he said, referring to spousal and child support.

Eastern Arctic MLAs were unavailable for comment, due to travel commitments and meetings in Nunavut communities.

Some major changes to existing legislation expected with the Family Law Act include:

  • Couples can enter into a contract outlining rights and obligations if the union ends.

  • A provision for the courts to ignore a domestic contract on spousal support if the spouse to make the payments is eligible for public assistance, support is unconscionable or there is a default in the contract.

  • Criteria is provided for determining spousal support, including economic considerations of new relationships.

  • The obligation of adult children to support parents or grandparents (if they were care-givers).

  • The advantages and disadvantages from a relationship should be equitably shared.

  • Specific criteria for the court to decide who should get exclusive possession of the family home based on the best interest of the children, availability of other accommodations and violence committed by a spouse against one another or the children.

A more comprehensive explanation of the proposed Family Law Act and details of venues for the public hearings on the bills is available by contacting your MLA.

Schedule of public hearings
April 16-18............Rankin Inlet
April 20-23............Inuvik
May 6-8................Cambridge Bay
May 5-7................Fort Smith
May 7-9................Hay River
June 9-12..............Yellowknife