Family law

Family law

In family law, relationships are fundamental because they have strong emotional and social aspects, and not just legal responsibilities. The unique legal rights and obligations that arise between family members are governed by the process of civil law in Canada. Family law includes legal issues surrounding marriage and divorce, financial support for children and spouses, adoption, custody and access and determination of parentage.

The justice system in Alberta encourages family issues to be dealt with in a holistic way, rather than just by using the formal court process. For example, divorce proceedings involve much more than a couple appearing in court or signing legal papers. In Alberta, the justice system encourages people to attend "Parenting After Separation" courses, to use mediation or judicial dispute resolution and to seek the help of psychologists and counselors, as well as lawyers, to deal with their issues.

The federal government is responsible for legislation governing divorce in Canada. Divorce is granted on the basis of "marriage breakdown." Normally parties will have been living separate and apart for at least one year immediately prior to the divorce proceedings. The Divorce Act makes provision for spousal and child support from the time the parties separate in contemplation of divorce, throughout the divorce proceedings and after divorce is granted.

The legal process to marry is significantly less complicated than divorce proceedings. Legal unions can be either marriage or common-law unions. A person must be 16 years old to marry, and those under 18 need parental consent.

Alberta's Adult Interdependent Relationships Act addresses the legal needs of people involved in committed, unmarried relationships, including common-law and some platonic relationships. Adult interdependent partnerships include relationships of at least three years or where there is a child of the relationship. Partners may also prepare a written adult interdependent partnership agreement for legal recognition of a relationship shorter than three years.

Parents have legal obligations and responsibilities to their children. These include providing adequately for the emotional, physical, educational and social well-being of their children. If there is any neglect regarding these responsibilities, the government has the authority to intervene under the Child Welfare Act to protect children's needs. When parents fail to meet these obligations the Act makes provision to help parents through support services and counseling. If the problems are too serious, the children can be removed from the home and placed in a group home or foster care, or the children may be adopted.

In the event that family dynamics are particularly problematic, the Protection Against Family Violence Act makes provision for a Court Order to prevent one family member from continuing a certain action against another family member. Cases involving physical violence, property damage, forced confinement or sexual abuse would all be covered by the Act.

In the event of divorce or separation, custody and access become issues for couples with children. The courts are required to determine what is in "the best interest of the child." Upon separation, either parent can apply to the court for a determination as to which parent will have sole custody or whether there will be joint custody of children.

The needs and interests of children are considered under family law. These may become especially important when parents divorce or separate, or when medical decisions must be made about the child.

The Parentage and Maintenance Act legislates the responsibility to support children of unwed parents. Paternity can be determined in the event that a man denies he is the father of a child and states that he is therefore not responsible for child maintenance.

When there are family law issues, there are often psychological or other issues that need to be addressed. For this reason, the justice system encourages people to deal with family issues through training, counseling, and other avenues, rather than just through the formal court process.

This article is part of the Government of Alberta's commitment to help inform Albertans about the justice system. For further information visit, or contact us for more information by phone 780-427-8530 (dial 310-0000 toll free anywhere in Alberta), or by e-mail at