Family law is the largest focus of our practice, and in this, our firm isn’t unusual. Government places ever more emphasis on the family, in recognition of its importance to the stability and general health of our society. At the same time, the family compact is rapidly changing, with millennia old traditions and standards giving way to new sensibilities and laws: older definitions are replaced by concepts that would have been inconceivable to society even thirty years ago. The traditional vows of marriage, “till “death do us part,” faces the current reality of a 43% divorce rate, according to StatsCan, 2008, which is up approximately 4% from their previous census. And these figures don’t include couples who have separated.
Clearly, the family is under stress and duress.
Interestingly, 2008 was the last year for which Stats Can will ever report divorce figures. Want to know if our society is resolving its marriage breakups? If the last four years have seen a positive turn or an increase in the divorce rate? You can’t find out. At least not from StatsCan. For whatever their reasons, Stats Canada will no longer tell you. Actually, they do provide some rational, such as that the definition of marriage has drastically changed, rendering a comparison of divorce figures from older definitions and laws to more current practices as being meaningless. To some extent, they’re correct- gay marriage being the most obvious change in our marriage laws, as well as the grounds by which divorce can be procured, but statistics being meaningless? We live in an information based society; organizations, social agencies and plans are informed and directed by such statistics. Gay marriage, straight marriage, divorce is divorce. It seems a strange decision, but we aren’t privy to StatsCan’s inner deliberations. For our purposes, however, we can work with the figure that 43% of Canadian families have unravelled, or will.
As a legal entity, by the way, a family consists of two adults, joined in any of the ways legally determined by the Canadian government. Here too, notice the changes to the traditional family concept, which previously would have stipulated marriage between a man and a woman. Today, gender is not relevant, and family law is inclusive of common law relationships.
That said, most of us automatically think of children when we think of family. How many times have you heard, or perhaps said yourself, upon hearing that a couple has separated, “At least no children are involved.”? But there are enough bonds and threads formed in a couple relationship that no society can simply ignore their dissolution, the division of property, for one thing, being of immense importance to the welfare of both parties. Add children, of course, and the stakes are raised to a whole new level of complexities, legal requirements and unfortunately, emotions.
Some people become upset with our legal system and with family law practitioners such as myself. If, as former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” then by extension goes the reasoning, the government has no business when the bedroom is dissolved. But nothing could be further than the truth. It is precisely when things fall apart that society needs to step in and help everyone involved to land on their feet, equitably, protected, and as much as is possible, ready to begin life anew. And that is the reason d’être for family law. That is my job as a family law practitioner. More about family law and divorce in my next blog.