Queer Family Lawyers in Alberta
Queer relationships, by definition, challenge the antiquated heteronormative perceptions of relationships and the characterization of “family”. Queer partners and families have historically been at the forefront of challenging discriminatory and reductive legislation and case law. When we look at cases like Egan v Canada, which challenged the definition of “spouse” in the Old Age Security Act; M. v H., which stated that the deprivation of spousal support in a former same-sex relationship violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and Reference re Same-Sex Marriage, which ultimately determined the right to marry was a constitutionally enshrined right for all, regardless of sexual orientation, we see how far the law has changed in the last two decades. However, we also know how much change still needs to occur. That is to say, the heteronormative way in which family law is done is not always sensitive to the needs of queer and non-heteronormative families.
We at FC&Z Family Lawyers recognize that in order to effectively represent queer clients, we have to ensure our strategies and behaviours are not based on presuppositions of heteronormativity. All of our lawyers and support staff have undergone specialized training in inclusivity. Our philosophy is that all of our clients, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic should receive the best representation possible.
Our team of queer and allied family lawyers are here to help you navigate all legal aspects of your relationship, including Cohabitation Agreements, separation/divorce, adoption, and surrogacy. Call our Calgary office today to set up a free, 15 minute consultation.
Cohabitation, Pre-Nuptial, and Marriage Agreements
Cohabitation can give rise to legal rights. In Alberta, legal rights arise once you have lived in a marriage-like relationship for a period of 3 years (or less if there are children between you), at which point you are considered Adult Interdependent Partners. Cohabitation Agreements work to provide certainty in your rights in the event of a breakdown of the relationship.
Without an agreement, the Court will rely on legal principles to determine an equitable division of assets and any claims for support from the other partner.
Pre-nuptial Agreements are similar to Cohabitation Agreements, but are usually done in contemplation of an upcoming marriage. These Agreements set a mutual understanding, based on information that is currently available to you, of how you will divide property and each party’s right to support in the event of a breakdown of the relationship. The certainty that a pre-nuptial agreement brings, especially with respect to property, can save you thousands in legal fees in the event that you do separate from your spouse.
Marriage Agreements, or Post-nuptial Agreements, are identical to a Pre-Nuptial Agreement except for the fact that it is entered into after the couple is married.
Agreements, although most often focused on property, are extremely beneficial where there are step-children (setting out the step-parents’ legal obligations) and where one person has more than one spouse. They allow you and your partner to set the legal framework for any and all family legal issues that may arise in the event of a separation.
Separation and Divorce
If you meet the definition of an Adult Interdependent Partner, the breakdown of your relationship will give rise to legal issues that must be resolved. All issues can be resolved outside of a courtroom through negotiation, mediation, or settlement. However, if you are legally married, only the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta can grant you a divorce (i.e. you must get a Divorce Judgment for the divorce to be legally valid).
The first fact to determine is how long you and/or your partner have been ordinarily resident in Alberta. A division of family property for married spouses requires at least one spouse to be ordinarily resident in Alberta for a period of not less than one year. If you are not sure if you have met this requirement, speak with one of our experienced family lawyers.
There are four principle legal issues that are addressed in a divorce or separation: (1) Guardianship and Parenting, (2) Child Support, (3) Spousal Support, and (4) Property Division.
Guardianship and Parenting
Whether you are a biological parent, guardian, adopted legal parent, a parent through surrogacy, or step-parent, you will have legal rights and obligations when it comes to the children. The Family Law Act explains what rights arise from what legal relationships.
When it comes to guardianship (legal decision making) and parenting (time spent with a child), the overriding legal test is best interests of the child. This means that parenting and access decisions will be driven by the interests of the child, not the preferences or convenience of the parents.
Queer and gender non-conforming children have become integral to how this legal test is being interpreted. In situations where one parent is causing emotional or psychological harm to a child because of the child’s sexual orientation or gender expression, that parent may lose some parenting rights with that child. The Court’s paramount focus is on the child.
If you have a legal obligation to provide financial support to a child through the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act, the Court will ensure that you provide this support. Child support is the right of the child and is payable regardless of your relationship with the child at least until the child turns 18 or is no longer deemed a child of the relationship under the legislation.
For step-parents, child support may be payable in the event the legal parents are unable to sufficiently provide for the child. However, there are certain requirements that must be met, including the other parent proving that you have stood in the place of a parent for the child.
Child support, if payable, is calculated based on amounts set out in the Alberta Child Support Guidelines (Adult Interdependent Partners) and the Federal Child Support Guidelines (married spouses). The amount is based on the payor parent’s income and the parenting arrangement that is in place for the child. We have developed a child support calculator <hyperlink> you can use to estimate child support. It also automatically generates some graphs and charts to help you visualize how child support payments could affect your cash flow.
Spousal support is money paid by one party to another. It is not automatic. Spousal support requires that the spouse claiming support is entitled to same, and what that entitlement looks like. This is one of the most complex areas of family law as it takes into consideration a multitude of factors, such as roles in the relationship, earning potential, current earning capacity, length of the relationship, whether there are children of the relationship, how much property is to be divided, etc.
The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAGs”) are a reference tool for determining what spousal support may look like, but they are not mandatory nor legislated. There is a range of support that is produced through the SSAGs, and the choice of where on the range spousal support will be paid is determined through considering the factors described above. We have also developed a spousal support calculator <hyperlink> that you can use to estimate spousal support. However, you should speak with a family lawyer to discuss the support that may be payable in your situation.
If you are Adult Interdependent Partners or are married, you will be subject to a division of your family property under the Family Property Act. There is a presumption of an equal division of your family property (including assets and debts). However, there are a number of exemptions, including property owned prior to cohabitation and/or marriage, property received as a gift or inheritance, or property acquired through insurance settlements.
If you have a Cohabitation Agreement, Pre-nuptial Agreement, or Marriage Agreement, the division of your family property will be governed by that Agreement to the greatest extent possible. If you do not have an Agreement, you will be subject to the provisions of the Family Property Act. In some cases, family property division is straightforward, while in other cases it can become very complex. This is particularly so when there are family companies or foreign-owned property.
Resolving a Separation or Divorce
Our team of queer and allied family lawyers can help you to determine the best course of action to take. In most cases, we strongly encourage negotiation and mediation to reach a settlement that is then incorporated into a formal Separation Agreement. However, there are times where court intervention is necessary and our team has experienced litigators ready to seek an appropriate Order from the Court.
In Alberta, you cannot be an Adult Interdependent Partner of one person and the married spouse of another. Further, the legislation prohibits a person from having more than one interdependent partner at a time. This then creates a legal situation in which a polyamorous family has different legal rights depending on whether two of the individuals are married or who the initial partners were. As such, one or more person’s rights exist outside of the legislation and through common law remedies like unjust enrichment or joint family ventures. But how does this all work out when one member of a polyamorous family separates? There is a lot of uncertainty, particularly if your lawyer does not understand or recognize the uniqueness of polyamorous (“poly”) families in Canadian law and how the courts across the country are resolving these issues.
The legislation has not defined procedures for poly families, which leaves it to lawyers and judges to determine the most appropriate way for legal disputes to be resolved. Many of the issues can be prevented through the preparation of a CohabitationAgreement that all members of the poly family sign at the commencement of the relationship (or that new members sign upon joining an existing poly family). If you are already years into your relationship, you will benefit from discussing options available to you and your poly family members with a family lawyer who recognizes the unique space in which poly families exist within our legal system.
Our team of experienced family lawyers can help you and your poly family members prepare anAgreement that sets out reasonable expectations of all parties within the relationship and/or can advocate on your behalf for a proper resolution in the event of a breakdown of a poly relationship. In addition, if you and your poly family members are having difficulty in resolving your disputes between you, our team of Family Law Mediators can help you in navigating this unique and complex area to reach a resolution that is agreeable to all parties.
Civil Marriage Act – Non Residents of Canada
Since 2005, Canada has granted and recognized same-sex marriages of both domestic and foreign nationals. This led to an influx of foreign couples coming to Canada to get married, which continues today. However, this also created procedural and legal concerns for foreign couples who decide to separate – if you reside in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage, you cannot get a divorce in that jurisdiction. But if you decide to not take the formal steps of divorce, your marriage is still recognized in Canada, causing further issues later on should you decide to get remarried. Thankfully, the Civil Marriage Act provides a remedy.
Unlike divorces granted through the Divorce Act, the Civil Marriage Act permits the Court to grant a divorce to spouses who are not ordinarily resident in Canada. The requirements to receive a divorce under this Act are: (1) the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least one year prior to the application, (2) neither spouse resides in Canada, and (3) each spouse resides in a jurisdiction for at least one year prior to the application that does not recognize the validity of the marriage.
If you and your spouse reside outside of Canada and cannot receive a divorce in your jurisdiction, contact FC&Z Family Lawyers for a free, 15 minute phone consultation so that we can discuss whether an application pursuant to the Civil Marriage Act will work for you.
Adoptions in Alberta
When a child is adopted, their adoptive parents become their only parents. The former parent(s) no longer has/have any of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. FC&Z Family Lawyers assists with two basic types of adoption: private adoptions, when a child is adopted by a new family, and step-parent adoptions, when a step-parent adopts the child of their spouse.
Step-parent adoptions are common and are relatively straightforward when the permission of the birth parent is obtainable. A step-parent adoption can become more complex when the non-custodial birth parent cannot be found, or does not want to consent to the adoption. In a step-parent adoption, the custodial parent retains all of their legal rights and responsibilities as a parent.
Likewise, third party adoptions are relatively simple when all parties are consenting. In Alberta, the birth parents can request a Home Study or one may be ordered by the Judge if it is deemed necessary.
Surrogacy in Alberta
In surrogacy, a gestational carrier will carry a fetus in pregnancy and give birth to a child for other people who will legally be the child’s parents. It sounds simple enough. However, surrogacy in Canada is very different from the United States and how it is depicted in television and movies.
A piece of federal legislation called the Assisted Human Reproduction Act sets requirements for surrogacy in Canada:
- the gestational carrier must be at least 21 years old;
- it is illegal to pay a gestational carrier to be a gestational carrier; and
- it is legal for the intended parents to reimburse the gestational carrier for expenses incurred related to the pregnancy.
In the Family Law Act, the Alberta government established a procedure for intended parents to become the legal parents of a child. This requires a court application made to declare the gestational carrier as not being a parent of the child and to have the parent(s) who provided reproductive material to be declared the parent(s) of the child. However, for queer families, the legislation is not comprehensive. It states that only the male person and the female person who provided reproductive material may make the application. There is no recognition of non-gendered individuals.
This then creates a second step to the process: the spouse or partner of the legal parent following the application must then adopt the child as a step-parent adoption.
It is recommended that in order to make this process as simple as possible, the gestational carrier and the intended parent(s) should enter into a Surrogacy Agreement setting out the rights, obligations, and expectations of all parties. Surrogacy Agreements can be complex as a result of the government’s limited regulations around surrogacy in Canada. If you are looking to put an Agreement together, reach out to our team of surrogacy lawyers in Calgary who can help you prepare an Agreement and explain all of your rights and obligations.