EDITORIAL: Breaking up is hard to do

The new Family Law Act likely won't prevent couples from using courts to obtain "fair" split of property

Pierre Elliot Trudeau once famously said, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”

That was in reference to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, which decriminalized homosexuality, made way for abortion and contraception, regulated lotteries, gun possession and drinking and driving offences – a scenario we take for granted today.

In its latest attempt to poke its nose into our bedrooms, the province’s new Family Law Act will help protect those in common-law relationships if and when the romance dies.

While the new rules clarify the partners’ responsibility for their children, they also make division of assets a little easier, a move the government says will keep more unhappy couples out of court.

As with any change to the law, it’s the lawyers who will see the biggest benefit. People already living common-law and those thinking of shacking up with a romantic partner will now be drawing up cohabitation agreements – planning well beyond who gets the record collection when it’s over.

And while the new rules certainly close a number of loopholes in terms of spousal and child support, there will be unintended consequences, with potentially more at stake financially at the time of a break-up.

It’s only human nature to want what you have coming to you – even if it’s only because the government has said you deserve it. It’s this kind of thinking that might well lead more splitting couples to the courtroom than anticipated.

The new Act gives us all something to think about. Things like purchasing a new car, investing in real estate or RRSPs might best be done before emptying a drawer in your bureau for a new partner.

You might also want to think twice before moving in with someone who is going back to school and about to amass student debt  – because if you part ways, along with those old Neil Sedaka LPs  – you’ll get half of that too.

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