How have divorce laws changed?
Divorce Act, 1968: Before 1968 there was no federal divorce law in Canada. Instead, each province had its own laws concerning divorce. A common theme in each province’s divorce laws was that a husband could only petition for divorce if his wife had committed adultery and a woman could only petition for a divorce if her husband committed adultery combined with other offences. In 1967, the Constitution Act gave the federal Parliament jurisdiction in the area of divorce. Then, in 1968, the Divorce Act established a uniform divorce law across Canada. The Divorce Act broadened the grounds for divorce to include no-fault grounds while also retaining fault-based grounds for divorce. Now couples could divorce after three-years of separation or by committing offences such as infidelity and cruelty. The grounds of divorce in this act were available to both wives and husbands, therefore reducing the double standard that had existed under previous divorce laws (i.e. the United Kingdom Matrimonial Causes Act). Although the federal Parliament had exclusive jurisdiction to legislate in divorce law, Provincial legislation had jurisdiction over family law (i.e. support and custody cases and change of name). Because jurisdiction of divorce and family law overlapped, many initiatives to reform divorce law were developed through joint federal-provincial efforts.

Divorce Act, 1985: The 1985 Divorce Act was influenced by the 1976 Report on Family Law by the Law Reform Commission of Canada. The report recommended the sole ground for divorce in Canada should be the breakdown of a marriage in order to reduce the aggression of the traditional approach to divorce and instead promote more constructive resolutions of family disputes in separation. The Report on Family Law also recommended that Canada should have a Unified Family Courts, that would have exclusive jurisdiction over family law issues. The 1985 Divorce Act followed the recommendations of this report as the act partially removed the fault component from divorce actions. This change from the 1968 Act creates a single ground for divorce called marriage breakdown, which could be established by providing either separation for at least one year, or any of three fault-based criteria: adultery, physical cruelty, or mental cruelty. Further, a couple could be divorced after being separated for one year. By 1987, the number of divorces granted nationwide increased significantly. And in 1990, the Justice Department published Evolution of the Divorce Act, Phase II: Monitoring and Evaluation, which concluded that the no-fault ground for divorce introduced in 1985 has contributed to reducing the adversarial nature of divorce proceedings.

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Child Support Guidelines, 1997: In 1997, Bill C-41 was tabled to amend the Divorce Act. The Act received Royal Assent on February 19, 1997 and came into force on May 1, 1997. Now, applications for child support are made under section 15.1 of the Divorce Act, which refers to the federal Child Support Guidelines. Before 1997, the amount paid for child support was set according to the results of a legislative test aimed at sharing the responsibility for maintaining children between their parents in proportion to what each is able to pay. Since the imposition of the 1997 Child Support Guidelines, studies have found that the guidelines are helping some separating couples share the financial responsibilities for their children. They have also enabled the provinces and territories to implement several measures designed to improve the effectiveness of the family law system, including new court rules and mediation.


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