Posts in Family law
MyLawBC’s Dialogue Tool improved

MyLawBC’s Dialogue Tool has been updated.

The Dialogue Tool helps you create a separation agreement that addresses your family’s needs. You start with an intake process where both you and your ex answer questions about your situation and set out your ideas for the future. Once you’ve both finished this step the system looks at your answers and creates a custom template separation agreement for you to fill out and complete.

Since MyLawBC’s launch we have been gathering feedback about the Dialogue Tool from both real world users and in user testing sessions. Based on this feedback we’ve made a number of improvements to the tool. Some of those changes are to the backend of the tool and may not be readily apparent. Here are some that you might notice:

  • The questions asked during the intake process have been rearranged to follow an order that users thought was more natural.

  • The legal clauses that are given to users have been updated to make them easier to understand.

  • A new section was added to show the original text of the legal clauses in the template so you can refer back to it after you have edited them.

We’ve heard a lot of positive things about the Dialogue Tool and we hope with these changes we’ll hear even more. You can try out the improved Dialogue Tool or learn more about it on MyLawBC.com.

Hot Off the Press: If You Can’t Get Legal Aid for Your Child Protection Case

If You Can’t Get Legal Aid for Your Child Protection Case is now back in stock, and you can order it from Crown Publications.

This booklet is for people facing a complicated child protection hearing who’ve been denied legal aid and can’t afford a lawyer.

It explains why you can ask for a court-appointed lawyer and how to apply. It includes the forms you need, what you should say to the judge in court, and where to get legal help and other support.

Updates to this new edition include:

  • a glossary with frequently used words and phrases,
  • restructured content for a more logical, step-by-step approach,
  • redefined terminology,
  • improved forms instructions,
  • more cross-references to forms, and
  • graphics to improve accessibility.

Previous editions are no longer current; please recycle.

Hot Off the Press – For Your Protection: Peace Bonds and Family Law Protection Orders
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Back in stock and with a fresh new look: our popular booklet, For Your Protection: Peace Bonds and Family Law Protection Orders, has been completely redesigned as well as updated.

For Your Protection explains how and when people can apply for peace bonds and family law protection orders, and what the differences are between them. This revised version will be available later this year in Farsi, Chinese (simplified and traditional), and Punjabi.

Hot off the Press – Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights

We revised and redesigned this popular booklet and it’s now back in print. Parents Rights, Kids Rights explains what happens if the Director of Child Welfare has concerns about a child’s safety or plans to remove a child from the family home. The booklet describes the child protection process for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and families, including:

  • collaborative (shared) planning and decision-making options to stay out of court,
  • what can be decided in court at the presentation and protection hearings,
  • community services and legal help, and
  • definitions of terms.

We made the following revisions to this edition:

  • integrated information about the child protection process for Aboriginal children and families throughout the booklet (previous editions had a separate chapter on the Aboriginal child protection process);
  • designed one flow chart that provides an overview of the child protection process for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and families (the stand-alone pieces The Aboriginal Child Protection Process and The Child Protection Process are also available); and
  • used friendly, original drawings on the cover and to introduce each section of the booklet.

Parents Rights, Kids Rights is available in print and online. Please recycle previous editions.

Surrey Parents Legal Centre now open to help people with child protection matters!
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The Parents Legal Centre (PLC) is a Legal Services Society (Legal Aid BC) service to help eligible parents, or people standing in the place of a parent, with child protection matters. The PLC offers early intervention in dealing with the Ministry of Children and Family Development or a Delegated Aboriginal Agency. PLC lawyers provide legal advice and representation at collaborative processes or at court, and PLC advocates provide support throughout the process, as well as help accessing community resources and agencies.

The Vancouver PLC is located at Robson Square Provincial Court to help clients from Vancouver and Burnaby and has been operating since February 2015.

The Surrey PLC opened on February 19, 2018. The Surrey PLC will help parents facing matters that could go to Surrey Provincial Court. This centre will help parents in Surrey, White Rock, parts of Langley, and parents from Delta with cases handled by Métis Family Services. The Surrey PLC is located at:

3rd Floor
7337 137th Street
Newton Town Centre, Surrey

If you have any questions, please contact the Surrey PLC at 604-595-4360 or the Vancouver PLC at 604-601-6310.

Hot Off the Press - The Child Protection Process (flow chart)
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We’ve revised this poster that describes the child protection process in flow chart form. The step-by-step overview:

  • begins at the investigation and the decision whether protection is required,
  • shows the outcomes of the presentation hearing, and
  • ends with the possible outcomes of the protection hearing.

The revised poster now includes options for what to do if a child is under a continuing custody order.

The revised poster is available online only.

The previous printed edition is legally accurate, but doesn’t include the information about continuing custody orders.

Hot Off the Press – One new and two revised French translation
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LSS is committed to providing PLEI publications in our second language for our francophone community here in BC and for all French-speaking newcomers to BC. We’ve just released three new or revised French translations, available online only.

The new French translation:

Mères quittant un partenaire violent : Renseignements concernant le droit de la familleMothers LeavingAbusive Partners: Family Law Information

This booklet is a plain language guide for women who’ve been abused by their intimate partner (such as a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend). Topics include:

  • what is abuse
  • how to protect yourself and your children
  • what the courts can do
  • what will happen to the children
  • deciding parenting arrangements
  • where to get help and support
  • what to take with you when you leave

The revised French translations:

Vivez en sécurité, Mettez fin à la violence — Live Safe, End Abuse

Our fact sheets on abuse and family violence have been thoroughly revised and updated and combined into a single booket. This booklet is for people leaving an abusive partner. It contains information on what abuse is, how people can plan for their safety and protect their children, and who can help. Topics include:

  • safety planning
  • women abused by their partners
  • keeping your children safe
  • men abused by their partners
  • protection orders
  • getting help from the police or RCMP
  • who can help
  • if your sponsor abuses you
  • what to do about money
  • the criminal court process

Vivre ensemble ou séparémentLiving Together or Living Apart

We’ve revised and updated our popular, award-winning booklet. Previous versions are no longer accurate and should be discarded.

Family law can be complicated. But with the right information and help, you can solve many issues on your own without going to court. This booklet explains your legal options and where to get help. It also includes a chapter for immigrant families. Topics include:

  • your rights and responsibilities if you’re married or in a marriage-like relationship
  • how spouses can work out agreements
  • what to do if you decide to separate or divorce
  • how to work out arrangements for parenting if you have children
  • how to sort out money matters

All these translations are available, online-only, on the MyLawBC website. You can also find a full list of all our French PLEI publications.

Thank you to the Francophone Affairs Program in BC for funding these translations, made possible through the Canada–British Columbia Official Languages Agreement on French-Language Services.

How an afternoon with advocates made me understand Luddites
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Sometimes we look through old posts and find ones so interesting we want to share them again. This is one of them. It originally ran in ELAN on Oct 21, 2013. Every fall we hold our Provincial Advocates Conference, which trains advocates from all around the province on legal issues.

Day one of the training was just for our community partners and I had a chance spend the day with them. Community partners are organizations across BC – in 24 communities right now [Ed. Note: we’re up to 26 now] – that work with people who may need legal aid. As part of their day-to-day jobs, they deal with people who need legal aid or who could use our resources, so we make sure that they are trained, up-to-date, and ready to point those people in our direction.

Part of the day was spent updating all of these advocates on legal aid services and resources: updates to our websites, new publications, ways of sharing information, and more. By request, the rest of the day was spent on a really interesting, and kind of scary, presentation by BC Society of Transition Houses’ Safety Net Canada Project on the (mis)use of technology and violence against women. Many of our community partners’ work often supports women and their children leaving abusive relationships and in recent years technology has been used more and more for harassment and stalking.

I deal with technology and the online world all the time. In fact it’s most of what I do at LSS. But some of the stuff that was brought up in that presentation absolutely floored me. I mean, I know that digital photos can contain location data about where they were taken, or that spyware can record what you type, or that you can disguise your phone number as someone else’s, but the implications of what that could mean for someone fleeing an abusive relationship never really crossed my mind. Some of it never even occurred to me; for example, I hate email forms – those text boxes that some sites make you fill out rather than just giving you an email address – but someone brought up that using them means that email addresses, say for a women’s shelter, don’t get stored in the address book or your email isn’t sitting in the sent folder. Two very real issues if someone is trying to track your online communications.

It’s pretty sobering, really, and I find it all a bit striking that people like our community partners have to think about this stuff every day at their jobs. I don’t want to fear monger though. The session wasn’t just about the dangers of technology. It was also about mitigating those dangers to protect yourself, and using technology to your advantage. While I don’t think I’ll be deleting my Twitter account any time soon, I can definitely start to see where Luddites are coming from.

I can’t speak for our community partners, but I had an eye opening afternoon that day. If the last three days were as interesting as the first, then I think everyone will walk away prepared to do a better job helping and advocating for their clients.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator at LSS

Changing your relationship status: Social media and family law
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This is an update to an article that ran in our previous blog ELAN on Sep 17, 2012. “I saw you tweeted that Tumblr post I put on Facebook.”

A few years ago, that sentence would have been complete gibberish, and you’d think twice about sitting down beside someone who said that on a bus. Nowadays, however, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. That’s how ingrained social media has become in our everyday lives; in fact, more than half of all Canadians use Facebook every day.

As social media penetrates our lives, it’s no surprise that it’s having greater and greater implications under the law. A quick search of CanLII — an electronic legal research database — shows that 1,108 court decisions mentioned Facebook in 2016 in Canada. Ten years ago there were five (Facebook was created in 2004).

While its use in criminal law has been big news before — tracking down rioters, for example — its effects on family law have been more subtle.

A survey in the UK found that Facebook was cited as a contributing factor to more than one third of divorce cases. For example, Facebook’s list of suggested friends alerted two women to the fact that they were married to the same man. Not only is social media a contributing factor to family law cases, it’s increasingly being used as evidence in these cases.

Your status updates and posts, which are often public, could affect custody, spousal support, or more. They can be used to demonstrate a number of things:

  • your state of mind;
  • proof of communication;
  • proof of time and place; and
  • evidence of actions

This isn’t necessarily limited to what is publicly visible, either; a judge in Connecticut ordered a couple to divulge their Facebook and dating site passwords during their divorce proceedings.

It’s not entirely clear how social media will continue to shape and affect family law, but apparently, it’s having an effect, so perhaps it’s best to keep an eye on what you’re posting.

Provincial Court of BC welcomes “McKenzie friends” in court
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With their recent adoption of support person guidelines, the Provincial Court of BC has acknowledged how important it is for a self-represented litigant to have a helpmate in court. Also known as courtroom companions or Mckenzie friends, support persons can take notes, keep documents organized, and even make quiet suggestions. Perhaps most importantly, simply having a friend or family member at your side can provide much-needed emotional and moral support. Unless a judge has a good reason to order otherwise, the presence of a support person is now accepted without special permission being necessary. BC’s Provincial Court is the first court in Canada to formally recognize support persons by outlining rules about their role.

We’ve created a new fact sheet Bring a support person to Provincial Court for the Family Law in BC website about who can be a support person and what they can do.

Hot off the press: Living Together or Living Apart

Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce is back in print!

We’ve revised and updated the English version of our popular, award-winning booklet Living Together or Living Apart. This booklet explains the basics of family law in BC. It includes information about:

  • your rights and responsibilities if you’re married or in a marriage-like relationship,
  • how spouses can work out agreements,
  • what to do if you decide to separate or divorce,
  • how to work out arrangements for parenting if you have children, and
  • how to sort out money matters.

Family law can be complicated. But with the right information and help, you can solve many issues on your own without going to court. This booklet explains your legal options and where to get help. It also includes a chapter for Aboriginal families and a chapter for immigrant families.

Order copies from Crown Publications or download the PDF. Available in print and online.

Hot off the press: Live Safe, End Abuse series

Our 10 fact sheets on abuse and family violence have been thoroughly revised and updated. The printed versions are now packaged together in a folder called Live Safe, End Abuse. The online version consists of a convenient single combined version. Live Safe, End Abuse is for people leaving an abusive partner. The fact sheets have information on what abuse is, how people can plan for their safety and protect their children, and who can help. Topics include:

  • Who can help
  • Getting help from the police or RCMP
  • If your sponsor abuses you
  • What to do about money
  • The criminal court process
  • Safety planning
  • Women abused by their partners
  • Keeping your children safe
  • Men abused by their partners
  • Protection orders

Order the new print version of Live Safe, End Abuse or read the combined version online.

Translations are coming later this year. Most of the original fact sheets are still available in simplified and traditional Chinese, Farsi, French, Punjabi, and Spanish, in print and online.

Live Safe, End Abuse replaces our booklet Surviving Relationship Violence and Abuse, which has been discontinued.

Supreme Court Provides Picklist to Help Draft Family Law Orders
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The BC Supreme Court has provided new resources to help you draft family law orders and Notice of Applications. To get the correct order, you have to tell the court what you want, which you do by filing a draft order at the court registry. This can be confusing, as there are many different types of orders. The Supreme Court has created a downloadable Family Order Picklist of approved standard terms which you can copy into your draft order, and then edit with your own details where needed. You can download the picklist in PDF or Word format.

When you copy these standard terms from the picklist, you’ll be using the correct legal language. For example, if you’re drafting a Divorce Order, you’d copy the following text from the picklist and type in your details inside the square brackets.

Subject to s. 12 of the Divorce Act (Canada), the Claimant, [name], and the Respondent, [name], who were married at [location] on [date], are divorced from each other. The divorce to take effect on the 31st day after the date of this order.

Using the correct legal language is important when drafting an order. The order must speak for itself, which means it must be clear and understandable. A confusing draft order might be rejected by the district deputy registrars. In fact, problems with family law orders are common, and some are never formalized.

Other resources for drafting Supreme Court orders

Use the picklist with other resources developed to help you draft family law orders, such as the Tips for drafting a Supreme Court order fact sheet on the Family Law in BC.

The BC Provincial Court also has a picklist of approved standard terms to help you draft family law orders. See also Tips about Provincial Court orders.

Hot off the press - Mothers Leaving Abusive Partners

We’ve partnered with the YWCA Metro Vancouver to produce Mothers Leaving Abusive Partners. Formerly published as Leaving an Abusive Relationship, the booklet has been thoroughly revised, updated, and given a design “refresh.” Mothers Leaving Abusive Partners is a plain language guide for women who've been abused by their intimate partner (such as a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend). Topics include:

  • what is abuse
  • how to protect yourself and your children
  • what the courts can do
  • what will happen to the children
  • deciding parenting arrangements
  • where to get help and support
  • what to take with you when you leave

You can now order the print version of Mothers Leaving Abusive Partners and also read it online.

I’m negotiating an agreement with my ex. Can our discussions be used against me in court later on?
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One question we’ve been hearing more since the launch of MyLawBC is whether what you say or write to your spouse when you’re writing your separation agreement could be used against you in court later on. MyLawBC’s Dialogue Tool is a platform for collaboration where you discuss and negotiate with your ex. Understandably, some people are concerned that what they say in good faith while negotiating could come back to bite them later. There’s a general legal rule that says that if you're in a legal dispute and trying to reach a settlement, then your communications can't be used against you in court. This is called settlement privilege. The idea is that you’ll speak more freely and openly during a negotiation if you aren’t worried that what you say will be used against you.

In this case, communication can become privileged (unusable in court) if:

  1. there’s a dispute that could be subject to a court case between two people. It doesn’t have to go to court, it just has to have the option to; and
  2. the purpose of the communication has to be to try to reach a settlement.

It’s more complicated than this summary though. For example, there are exceptions for threats or fraud. You can read more about settlement privilege in our new fact sheet on the Family Law in BC website.

Justice Innovation at Work: Family LawLINE Connects People to Lawyers
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This post originally ran on the Legal Services Society website; you can find it, and more stories about day to day life in legal aid in the Our Stories section. From her office in Golden, BC, lawyer Amber Van Drielen helps people from across BC with their family law problems. “I can remember the audible sigh of relief from a client on the other end of the line once she realized she might be able to obtain spousal support and pay her rent,” Amber said.

As lead lawyer of the Legal Services Society’s (LSS) Family LawLINE phone service, Amber and 12 other contract lawyers provide legal advice services to people with low incomes from their own offices around the province. It's just one of the innovative ways LSS connects British Columbians to legal aid.

Family LawLINE clients often live in rural areas at significant distances from other services, and their legal matters may be complicated by other issues, such as health concerns and lack of funds for transportation or photocopies necessary for court appearances.

Although the phone line has been around for a while, it was expanded to include more services with pilot project funding until 2017 from the BC Ministry of Justice. Since the full model went into effect, LawLINE has been able to help over 1,800 people (April 1 - October 31, 2015).

Amber describes some of the ways the service helps people:

It is difficult to say who a “typical” client is for the Family LawLINE. There are those with last-minute urgent issues. For example, the client who has already purchased tickets for international travel with her children only to find out that there is a problem at the passport office because the other parent won’t sign the paperwork. Or the other parent refuses to sign the travel consent. There are also the clients that need — perhaps for a medical reason — to request an adjournment of a hearing or trial at the last minute. In these types of last-minute stressful situations, Family LawLINE services are greatly appreciated.

Then there are clients who have recently separated. This is a perfect time to speak with a family lawyer. I am able to review with the client their legal position and options.

Often clients may need to vary an existing court order or they are on the responding end. I recall assisting an elderly client who was responding to an application to terminate her spousal support in the Supreme Court. Over the course of a couple of consults, we worked together on her response. I sensed as we worked on the matter together that she found a new sense of confidence in her ability to respond and deal with the action.

Overall, working with clients on the Family LawLINE is an interesting and rewarding experience.

For more about the service, read the Enhanced Family LawLINE fact sheet.

Emily's Choice: A Child Protection Story screening at VPL

Date: Tuesday, November 22nd

Time: 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Place: Special Collections, Level 7, Vancouver Public Library (Central Branch), 350 West Georgia Street

More information:  Child protection and the community

Come to Vancouver Public Library (Central Branch) for a screening of Emily's Choice: A Child Protection Story! Afterwards, there will be a panel discussion about the child protection process and the challenges of preserving the welfare and safety of children in our communities.

Developed by Legal Services Society and the Healthy Aboriginal Network, Emily’s Choiceis a graphic novel and video that use story and imagery to tell the story of Emily and her son, Greg. Emily is struggling with addiction and an unhealthy relationship. She loves her son, Greg, but can't always take care of him. When Greg goes into foster care, Emily gets legal help and the support of her family to get Greg back.

Upgrading the Dialogue Tool
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MyLawBC may have launched earlier this summer, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve been resting on our laurels. We’ve been working behind the scenes to make our first round of improvements to the Dialogue Tool. The Dialogue Tool makes writing a fair and lasting separation agreement easy. It does this by helping you set your priorities and find common ground with your spouse, and then it gives you a template and platform to create your legal agreement.

For our first round, we focused on making that easy process even easier; these quality of life improvements will make using the Dialogue Tool a more pleasant experience. The three enhancements just implemented are:

  1. Orientation videos — orientation videos have been integrated into the Dialogue Tool. These will help you learn about the process. You can see one of them below.
  2. Separate chats — each chat are is now tied to the topic of discussion. Before, there was one unified chat area for the entire agreement, but now your messages about parenting are separated from your messages about who keeps the house.
  3. Alerts page — a new Alerts page shows you a list of all the changes that have happened to the agreement and displays a red dot to alert you to new changes. Click the bell at the top of the page to see this page.

With these done, it’s time to look towards our next set of improvements.

Hot Off the Press — Coping with Separation Handbook
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After releasing our online Coping with Separation Handbook, we received many requests to also publish a print version. We’ve now made it available in print and online. The handbook is for spouses (married or living in a marriage-like relationship) who are dealing with the emotional aspects of separating.

It was developed as a help tool for the Make a separation plan pathway and Dialogue Tool in the MyLawBC website. Statistics show that one-third of Canadians, or 40 percent of British Columbians, have separated from their spouses.

Using engaging, colourful illustrations, the handbook describes the emotional stages of separation and ways to cope. It includes:

  • a checklist to recognize symptoms of stress,
  • suggestions to reduce your anxiety about the court process,
  • ways to reduce conflict with your spouse,
  • how to communicate with your spouse as you make decisions, and
  • general tips to follow during the short and long term.

There’s also a section on how to help your children cope with their emotions, along with some do’s and don’ts for communicating with your children.

The last section gives contact information for a range of support services for spouses, parents, and children, and where to find legal help.

You can now order the print version of Coping with Separation Handbook and also read it online.

Hot off the press: Emily’s Choice: A Child Protection Story

We’re telling another story. We got such positive feedback on Clear Skies, our 2015 graphic novel and video about family violence, that we’ve addressed intermediaries’ requests for one on child protection. Emily’s Choice is the result (trailer below).

Developed once again by LSS and the Healthy Aboriginal Network, Emily’s Choice uses storytelling and images to tell the story of Emily and her son, Greg. After Greg goes into foster care, Emily has to make some changes. With support from her brother, lawyer, and social worker and by learning about her legal options, Emily gets Greg back.

Watch the full video and visit the Emily’s Choice webpage, which provides additional information and links about child protection in the context of Emily’s story. Order FREE books and promotional posters from Crown Publications.

Please help us spread the word about Emily’s Choice by putting the poster up and sharing the video link and other information on your Facebook or Twitter. Share with organizations, friends or family, or anyone else who would benefit from knowing more about this child protection resource.

Questions, feedback, or need help with ordering? Email distribution@lss.bc.ca or call 604-601-6054.