Manitoba family law changes bringing needed ‘clarity’

Manitoba will employ public shaming as a means to enforce child and spousal support and make deadbeat parents financially accountable.

The province is poised for a major legislative overhaul to combat child poverty and eliminate loopholes in the existing law.

“The best interests of a child must always be the most important and often the only consideration in the area of family law. This is clearly entrenched within the proposed legislation, which would also include strong, new tools to collect child support from parents following separation or divorce,” Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said in a statement.

Among the proposed changes and additions to the law:

•    Online posting of the names and photos of delinquent parents with outstanding arrest warrants to determine their whereabouts.
•    Withholding of recreational hunting and fishing licences.
•    Increasing the maximum compensatory amount for late or missed support payments to $5,000 from $500.
•    Allowing a child to apply for child support.
•    Withholding of the Manitoba enhanced identification card for entrance to the U.S.

“I think that most family lawyers in Manitoba see the legislation as very positive  . . . it gives more clarity to certain areas, especially around relocation and mobility,” says Robynne Kazina, a family lawyer at Taylor McCaffrey LLP in Winnipeg. “Traditionally these are really difficult cases because there’s no middle ground — [one parent] is going to either be allowed to move or not.”

She it was difficult to advise clients because of lack of clarity in existing legislation but now it is better codified. For instance, one parent has to give notice within a certain time frame, there are rules if one parent wants to contest the move.

“When you look at the legislation, the biggest piece of the legislation that will have an impact on our work will be around mobility.”

For lawyers it’s not about toughening up on deadbeat parents. They way the government sells it in its news release doesn’t really “reflect how big of a change that is to our practice — it’s huge, says Kazina. “If you talk to any family lawyer this week, that’s all they’re talking about. It’s a big, big deal, this relocation and mobility stuff.

One very innovative part of the new law, sh says, deals with declaration of parentage and updating the law around assisted reproductive technology.

“The other stuff is great, it’s basically adding more tools to the toolkit.”

She notes the “shaming” aspect of the proposed law hasn’t been controversial because it’s really aimed at extreme cases.

“[E]specially with the posting online — that has to be for someone who has an outstanding arrest warrant. These measures are probably not going to be used every day, they’re for the exceptional circumstances. They’re still good to have in place.”

Mackintosh said there’s been a 205-per-cent improvement in child-support compliance since 2000, but that 40 per cent of parents still fail to meet their full obligations.

A 2014 CBC investigation found that Manitoba parents owe a collective $58 million in support arrears, while the nationwide total is a staggering $3.7 billion.

Manitoba’s online initiative matches an Ontario site called Good Parents Pay, which shows photos, last known location, and other information on a rogues’ gallery of deadbeat dads.

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