This week, the British Columbia government announced that the long-awaited new Family Law Act will come into force on March 18, 2013.
What does this mean for parents and parents-to-be?
The new law makes significant changes to the legal language used to describe parenting arrangements, and to how property will be divided when relationships end. “Custody” and “access” will be no more, replaced with “guardianship”, “parenting responsibilities” and “parenting time.” Common law couples will now be subject to the same laws in regard to property division as married couples, and there will be a heighened emphasis on helping couples resolve their legal issues outside of court.
Arguably more profound, however, are the fundamental changes the new legislation makes to how families formed through reproductive technologies will be recognized in B.C.
In this area, the legislation provides needed clarity. The new law expressly provides, for example, that the act of donating sperm will not be enough to make a man a parent. Only the birth mother and her spouse will be recognized as the child’s parents. Under section 27 of the Act, the donor will have no parental status, rights or obligations unless the parties enter into a written agreement prior to the birth that recognizes those rights.
Conversely, through the recognition of such agreements, it will now be possible for children in those families to have three legal parents — the birth mother, her spouse, and the biological father. (See my previous post on multi-parent families.)
The new legislation also provides that the biological parent of a child conceived after the parent’s own death can legally be that child’s parent. Essentially, this means that if a person has a child using sperm or ova that had been provided by their deceased spouse before their spouse’s death, both they and their deceased spouse may be recognized as legal parents of the child. This seemingly esoteric change will have a profound impact on those families affected, by clarifying an uncertain area of the law and allowing the parents involved to give full legal expression to their personal wishes and intentions.