Parents are considered guardians of their children at law, and issues can arise if a guardian passes away. If a guardian passes away, there are family law rules to consider that determine who will become the child’s guardian. These considerations apply to children under the age of 19.

If two parents were the joint guardians of the child, and one passes, the surviving guardian will assume sole guardianship and all parental responsibilities, unless a Court Order or agreement states otherwise. If only one parent was the child’s guardian, and they pass, the other parent does not automatically become the sole guardian. That said, the surviving parent of a child who is not a guardian may be appointed as guardian through an application to Court under the Family Law Act. This may be the case if one parent solely raised the child, while the non-guardian parent did not spend any regular time with the child. If a child does not have a guardian for a duration of time, the Public Guardian and Trustee (the PGT) will step in. The PGT is a BC corporation with the goal of protecting individuals who do not have legal capacity, such as children.

A parent who is a guardian of a child may choose to appoint a successor guardian. The guardian can do this through their Will or specified form under the Family Law Act. It is important to remember that the successor guardian cannot be granted more rights than the recently deceased guardian. Further, appointments of successor guardians can only be made in accordance with the “best interests of the child” principles. These principles are involved in nearly all aspects of family law and require that the best interests of the child be considered, such as the child’s mental and physical well-being.

The law surrounding guardianship can be complex. The experienced lawyers at Heath Law LLP are happy to assist you with family law and other types of legal matters.

The Federal Child Support Guidelines Child Support Table was updated effective November 22, 2017, to account for tax and other changes since the previous Child Support Table came into effect on December 31, 2011.

The minimum gross annual income at which the Child Support Table applies was increased from $10,820.00 under the 2011 Table to $12,000.00 under the 2017 Table. As a result, the Table no longer specifies a child support amount for payors living in British Columbia with an annual income of $11,999.00 or less.
For child support payors living in British Columbia with an annual income of between $12,100.00 and approximately $27,000.00 (depending on the number of children for which support is being paid), specified child support decreased under the 2017 Table.

For child support payors living in British Columbia with an annual income exceeding approximately $27,000.00, specified child support increased under the 2017 Table.
The maximum annual income for which child support is specified remains unchanged at $150,000.00. Beyond that income, there is a formula upon which child support is based.

For example, a payor living in British Columbia with an annual income of $17,000.00 paying child support for one child will now pay $111.00 per month under the 2017 Table as opposed to $133.00 per month under the 2011 Table. A payor living in British Columbia with an annual income of $75,000.00 paying child support for 3 children will now pay $1,522.00 per month under the 2017 Table as opposed to $1,483.00 per month under the 2011 Table.

While the changes to the Table were relatively minor, over time the difference in the amounts being paid and amounts otherwise payable may add up. If you are required to pay child support or receive child support as a result of an order made prior to November 22, 2017, we would encourage you to consult with a lawyer to ensure that a child support underpayment or overpayment does not accumulate.

Note that the Family Law Act will only allow a court to change, suspend or terminate an order respecting child support if certain conditions are met (see section 152). A court will require the parent seeking to vary the order to show that there has been a change in circumstances, evidence of a substantial nature that was unavailable when the order was made has become available, or that there was evidence of a lack of financial disclosure by a party that was discovered after the order was made. If one of the following applies to your situation, we recommend speaking to a lawyer about your options and your chances of success should you seek to change the child support amount payable or receivable.

Surrogacy is when a woman enters into an agreement with intended parents to carry a child that she will not be a parent to. This can be done either with the surrogate’s DNA or an implanted embryo. One, both, or neither of the intended parents may contribute reproductive assistance to the creation of the child. Surrogacy is highly regulated in Canada. Unlike in other countries, such as the United States, surrogates in Canada cannot be paid or compensated to be a surrogate. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act (“AHRA”) governs surrogacy and it sets out among other things, strict rules for how surrogates can be reimbursed for expenses.

Assisted human reproduction in Canada is considered altruistic and cannot be done for profit. Because surrogacy is an altruistic endeavour, surrogates also must not suffer any loss; thus the ways they may be reimbursed for specific expenses are set out in the AHRA and in the applicable Regulations. This includes documented travel expenses, medical expenses, groceries, any loss suffered to income as a result of the pregnancy so long as a medical practitioner has signed off on the loss, and other related expenses (with receipts). Additional compensation by the intended parents to any party involved with the surrogacy (the surrogate, any agency assisting with finding a surrogate, other donors etc.) can result in penalties under the AHRA. Speaking to a lawyer who specializes in fertility law to understand how intended parents can thank their surrogates is highly recommended.

While surrogacy is regulated at the federal level, especially in regards to compensating surrogates, it is also governed by the BC Family Law Act (“FLA”). The FLA defines “assisted human reproduction” as a means a method of conceiving a child other than by sexual intercourse. Reproduction through sexual intercourse would not qualify to be a surrogacy in BC, but would rather require that the intended parents enter into an adoption agreement with the birth mother.

BC has a fairly comprehensive statutory approach to surrogacy and covers that a donor (surrogate, egg, sperm, or the like) is not automatically considered a “parent” based solely on the donation (s. 24 FLA). BC law requires that intended parents and surrogates go through a two-step process: a surrogacy agreement prior to conception, and written consent of the surrogate after the birth (s. 29 FLA). Note that if a surrogacy agreement/ arrangement is not entered into prior to the conception, then the birth mother will be considered the child’s parent under s. 27 of the FLA.

The requirements for a surrogacy agreement are set out in s. 29 of the FLA which must include that

  • it must be in writing,
  • be made before the child is conceived through assisted reproduction, and
  • confirm that the birth mother will not be a parent of the child (FLA s. 29(2)).
  • Upon the birth of a child born as a result of assisted reproduction, it must be confirmed that no party to the agreement withdrew prior to the conception, and
  • the surrogate must give written consent to surrender the child to the intended parents (FLA s. 29(3)).
  • To be a surrogate, a woman must be at least 21 years of age (AHRA s. 6(4)).

Additionally, though not required, it is recommended for the safety of the surrogate that only women who have previously given birth become a surrogate. When considering surrogacy, either as a surrogate or intended parents, it is important to have a comprehensive agreement to set out the expectations of all parties. Because it is not required in BC to get a court order declaring parentage, and intended parents can be parents to the child born through surrogacy so long as there is a valid agreement, ensuring their is a written agreement between the intended parents and the surrogate is crucial. Consulting a lawyer prior to the conception of a child and prior to entering into such an agreement is strongly advised. Failure to do so could result in confusion and eventually having to attend Court to get a declaration of parentage, among other possible issues. Having a child should be a joyous time for intended parents and surrogates alike, and ensuring to have all parties’ rights and obligations clearly set out in the beginning will make for the best experience as parents embark on their parenting journey.

Divorce is an emotionally and financially difficult process, leaving many people on the verge of insolvency. It is important for both parties to a divorce to know that while some types of debts are forgiven upon the completion of bankruptcy, many family law obligations are not. Spousal and child support obligations pursuant to a family court order are not dischargeable debts. In fact, a recipient spouse under a support order receives a preferential payout, placing them ahead of many other types of creditors in line to receive the same assets.

Costs awards in family law proceedings are categorized the same as the subject matter that the trial or application addressed, and each are treated differently in bankruptcy. A costs award following a trial dealing with support claims will be treated as a non-dischargeable debt, for instance, while a costs award following a parenting trial would be considered an unsecured claim in bankruptcy. Many trials do not deal with a single discrete issue, which risks making the categorization of a costs award on bankruptcy unclear. For this reason, it is important to consider whether the parties are at risk of insolvency at the time a cost order is made, so that costs can be apportioned per issue addressed at trial.

Custody and access to children are complex issues requiring consideration of which circumstances would best benefit the interests of the child. Often, one or both parents may desire a change in custody or access. This can be accommodated so long as they can prove that a material change in circumstances has occurred since the last order was made.

A change can be said to be “material” if the situation presently in force would have resulted in a different order originally being made. Requests for variation are resolved entirely based on what will benefit the child, rather than what either of the parents want (Gordon v. Goertz, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC)).

Variation is permitted under section 17 of the Divorce Act, which further stipulates that a parent’s newly developed terminal illness or critical condition qualifies as a change of circumstance. A child’s increased age and expressed wishes to spend less time with a parent can also constitute a material change ( M. (S.M.) v. H. (J.P.), 2016 BCCA 284). Intensified and more frequent conflict, if egregious enough, can also serve as a material change (Friedlander v. Claman, 2016 BCCA 434).

Section 47 of the Family Law Act also gives authority for a court to change an order of custody or access. Section 216 of the Family Law Act allows the court to address interim orders (K. (B.) v. B. (J.), 2015 BCSC 1481). Again, the parent desiring the order’s variation must prove a material change in circumstances. The change cannot be one that was contemplated and addressed in the prior order (Gordon v. Goertz, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC)), such as a foreseen adjustment to a child’s extra-curricular soccer schedule. Material change can be shown through, for example, a parent becoming mentally ill, a child desiring to have less or more time with a parent, or a parent successfully completing counseling and improving their ability to be a guardian.

Although less frequently invoked, the court also has jurisdiction to change an interim order even if there has neither been a change in circumstances or new evidence. The court may only do so if a change would be in the best interests of the child (R. (R.) v. L. (S.), 2016 BCSC 1230. If you have concerns about your family matters, please contact Heath Law LLP to book a consultation.

Through the Notice to Mediate (Family) Regulation, BC Reg 296/2007, a party to a family law proceeding may require the other spouse to participate in mediation with them. Mediation, if successful, can have many benefits including a shorter timeline, decreased cost, and lower conflict. It’s also much less formal than court, and private.

A notice to mediate can be served on the other party at any point that is 90 days’ time after the first response to the family claim is filed, and 90 days’ time before the date of the trial. The parties must agree on which mediator to select, and if they cannot, any party may apply to a roster organization that maintains a list of experienced mediators who would be sufficient. The roster organization will provide a list of options, and the Regulation then requires parties to eliminate certain mediators to which they object. The roster organization will make the final call on who the mediator will be, taking into account the parties’ indicated preferences, the mediator’s qualifications and fee, and scheduling availability.

The mediator is required to hold separate pre-mediation appointments with each party, where they’ll screen for potential power imbalance or abuse. If this appointment leads the mediator to believe that the process would be inappropriate or unproductive, they can conclude the mediation at that point and the parties will need to go through with litigation. Parties are not obligated to settle all or any of their issues at mediation but must attend and participate in good faith. Mediation requires parties to be reasonable, relatively calm, and open to negotiation. Considering how emotionally charged separation is for many individuals, mediation certainly isn’t the answer for everyone, but it may be worth an attempt.


Both the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act give authority to change the amount of spousal support that must be paid, and although worded differently, both acts require a change in circumstances before the variation is warranted. It’s important to bring the variation application under the Act which the support order was originally made under; the Family Law Act cannot be invoked to change a support order made under the Divorce Act (Malbon v. Malbon, 2017 BCCA 427), and vice versa.

The factors for the court to consider when asked to change spousal support are set out in section 17 (4.1) of the Divorce Act and Section 167 of the Family Law Act. In case law, a substantial change of circumstances has been constituted by multiple scenarios including:

• A change in income;
• A change in expenses;
• Retirement;
• Re-partnering; and
• A change of residence for the child.

If parties presume the payor’s income will somewhat fluctuate, but instead it increases significantly, the situation will likely meet the requirement of a substantial change in circumstances (Jennens v. Jennens, 2020 BCCA 59). Purposeful, voluntary changes made to one’s life, such as taking a larger mortgage for a shorter amortization, will not lead to a change of support (Poon v. Poon, 2005 BCCA 60).

A foundational principle of the spousal support obligation is that payor’s must compensate their spouses when that spouse’s contributions to the family allowed the payor to obtain the high income they later benefit from (Judd v. Judd, 2010 BCSC 153).

Voluntary retirement is typically more carefully analyzed by the courts than forced retirement. When considering if retirement justifies changing support obligations, the courts will look at age, background, employment opportunities, and the objectives of the support order (Brouwer v. Brouwer, 2019 BCSC 274). In Cramer v. Cramer, 2000 BCCA 272, the payor was forced to retire due to a health condition, the estate had been split equally originally, and the payee spouse had failed to follow through with educational plans that would have led to financial self-sufficiency. The payor’s retirement constituted a change in circumstances and the spousal support was terminated entirely.

Remarriage or re-partnering alone is not sufficient to trigger a material change in circumstances (Morigeau v. Moorey, 2013 BCSC 1923). But when combined with other factors such as an increase in the payee’s workplace earnings, the requirement can be met (Clarke v. Clarke, 2014 BCSC 824). A change in the children’s residence, meaning an increase in expenses for the parent who is primarily caring for them, can constitute a change in circumstances sufficient to vary spousal support (Aspe v. Aspe, 2010 BCCA 508). . If you’d like assistance with resolving any family matters, please contact Heath Law LLP to book a consultation.

While the decisions of children’s parents will be given deference by the courts, grandparents have the right to make applications for access to their grandchildren. Section 59 of the Family Law Act authorizes the court to grant contact with the child to a person who is not a guardian, such as a grandparent. The court will make its decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.

Factors that may contribute to the court ordering contact between grandchild and grandparent include a strong existing relationship between the parties, the grandparents’ home offering stability and emotional wellbeing, and the child having their physiological needs met, such as healthy food being available. Factors that negate the court ordering contact include safety concerns, scheduling or transport concerns, or the child being exposed to family conflict or violence.

It’s important to note that grandparents are not entitled to access to the grandchild as a right. In Branconnier v. Branconnier, 2006 BCSC 2020, the twin boys’ mother reduced the time they were spending with their grandparents. The mother did so because the grandparents were spoiling the children with excessive sugary treats and gifts, and failing to provide a structured environment. The court held that the mother’s decision was reasonable and put the best interests of the children paramount.

Addressing family concerns and parenting time can be emotionally draining.

Heath Law LLP would be pleased to assist with your needs.

In certain circumstances, a party required to pay child support may need to claim undue hardship under section 10 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”).This means that the party would be caused to suffer unduly if made to pay the full amount of support originally required. If the party shows the court why they’re unable to pay the amount of support determined under the Guidelines, the court may reduce the value they’re obligated to pay.

Circumstances that may cause a party to suffer undue hardship include:
• The spouse has responsibility for an unusually high level of debt reasonably incurred to support the spouses and their children prior to the separation or to earn a living;
• The spouse has unusually high expenses in relation to exercising parenting time with a child; or
• The spouse has a legal duty to support any person who is unable to obtain the necessities of life due to an illness or disability.

The party claiming undue hardship must also prove that they have a lower standard of living than their ex-spouse. It’s typically very difficult to prove undue hardship because it’s viewed as unfair for one spouse to pay less than the Guideline requirement of support.

In Kelly v. Kelly, 2011 BCCA 173, the judge made it clear that future courts must very carefully exercise their discretion to order a different amount of support (para. 35). The objectives of the Guidelines should not be circumvented; predictability and consistency in support obligations are key components of our family justice system.

If you have any questions, please call Heath Law LLP to book a consultation.

Under section 224 of the Family Law Act, the courts have power to require parties attend counselling. This can be in the form of family dispute resolution or individual counselling. The courts can even order a child attend counselling without their guardians’ consent. This broad power of the court must be exercised in a manner that best respects the interests of the child. Counselling for children can be extremely beneficial, especially in situations of high family conflict or violence. Recognizing this, the Family Law Act also authorizes the courts to allocate the cost of counselling or other related services between the litigation parties, or to require only one party pay.

Particularly for young children who are more vulnerable to potential alienation from a parent, the court may order counselling. In C.H.T. v. P.V.L., 2015 BCSC 419, two children, aged 10 and 13, were estranged from their father. The court held that the objective should be that the children repair and reintegrate their relationship with their father, and that both parents must also follow the counsellor’s recommendations.

The age of the children and their expressed wishes will be taken into account when the court makes a decision regarding ordering counselling. In M.Y.T.C. v. L.H.N., 2018 BCSC 1174, the parties’ 15-year-old son was estranged from his mother. The son had clearly expressed that he did not want to go to counselling, and would meet any efforts to force him to go with resistance. The court held that ordering him into counselling would only further damage the relationship with his mother.

We understand how challenging it can be to navigate emotionally charged family matters. Our lawyers strive to resolve issues with minimal toll to clients.

If you have any questions, please call Heath Law LLP to book a consultation.