Family law reforms weaken women’s access to justice
Government ignores anti-violence sector’s concerns

NEWS RELEASE July 22, 2010

Vancouver – Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) today announces its strong opposition to Attorney General Mike de Jong’s proposed reform of the province’s Family Relations Act, the law that governs the division of family property, custody of and access to children, and support.

“We’ve written to the Attorney General telling him we reject a disputes resolution approach to family law, a point we clearly made in earlier consultations on these issues,” says Angela Marie MacDougall, BWSS Executive Director.

“While many couples facing separation and divorce can agree on issues like support and child custody, a disputes resolution system will not help women dealing with former partners who are inflexible or punishing.”

Dispute settlement processes do not offer a level playing field for women. They can create unsafe environments and this is particularly true where there is a history of relationship violence. Power differences between men and women do work to disadvantage women in negotiations with the men. This inequality is only exacerbated when violent former partners get to step outside the courtroom.

MacDougall is questioning whether the government will actually pay the costs of, in their words, ‘modernizing’ the family law system.

“Modernizing costs. Just for starters, we’re looking at hiring hundreds of specialized workers, all of whom will need to be trained and situated somewhere. Meanwhile, the government is cutting spending. It already grossly underfunds legal aid and constantly tells the community groups vital to support this kind of reform that there is no money.”

BWSS insists the Attorney General must extend the consultation timeframe on its complex proposals beyond October 8th and has also urged him to provide funding to women’s anti-violence sector so they can participate equally in the process.

“Mr. de Jong knows it takes time and money to develop policy, says MacDougall.

“We’ve told him the women’s anti-violence sector – a critical player on these issues – will be marginalized participants without funding support from his government.”