Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Barrie—Innisfil.
I have been divorced for 27 years and am the proud single mother of two daughters who are now 30 and 29. I know how outdated the Divorce Act is. No changes have been made to it in many years.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-78, which seeks to modernize divorce laws. The Conservative Party is and always will be the party that wants to improve every aspect of our justice system and do what we can to put those who might suffer first, adults and children alike, in an effort to improve their situation.
Bill C-78, which seeks to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act—this one deals with child support—and to make consequential amendments to another act, is very important.
As a member from Quebec, I know that the number of cases of separation and divorce has continued to climb in my province over the past 40 years, and it is essential that our laws be appropriately reformed in order not to make it more difficult for parents, who already must deal with significant disputes that are usually very emotional.
The reforms included in Bill C-78 would replace the terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting, establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to the best interests of the child, create duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes, introduce measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence, establish a framework for the relocation of a child, and simplify certain processes, including those related to family support obligations.
When looking to improve a bill, it is essential that we have objectives. In this case, we must first and foremost promote the best interests of the child. We must reinforce and focus on the crucial principle of maintaining the best interests of the child as the absolute priority of family law when it comes to parental decisions. Unfortunately, all too often children are used as pawns in separations, causing them to suffer even more, often scarring them for life.
This bill must also help address family violence by requiring the courts to consider parental violence, the seriousness and impact of the violence on the child, and future parenting arrangements. At present these situations are treated separately in cases of separation before the court, which means that the issues are dealt with separately instead of at the same time.
This bill must provide more tools to help restore child support and enforce child support agreements in order to the help reduce child poverty. Currently, when the paying parent does not pay, the parents must once again clog up the justice system and its related services. Parents must return to court to address the violation. In the end, the children do not benefit from the money and courtrooms are overloaded. That is wrong.
If we want this bill to be successful, we must make Canada's family justice system more accessible and efficient. We must simplify the various definitions and processes, offer more flexibility to provincial child support recalculation services, alleviate the courts' workloads by allowing provincial administrative child support services to carry out some tasks for which the courts are currently responsible, and require that legal professionals encourage their clients to use means other than the courts to resolve disputes.
The Conservative Party is working and will always work in the interests of victims and their families, and we believe that, in cases of divorce, the Divorce Act should allow for shared custody or shared parenting responsibilities unless it is clearly demonstrated that this is not in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should maintain close, meaningful relationships with their children and grandchildren—unless it is shown that this is not in the bests interests of the child, of course.
All of this will have financial implications. To expand unified family courts, the government is planning to spend $77.2 million over four years beginning in 2019-20, plus another $20 million per year to create 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Federal family laws have not been updated significantly in 20 years. According to the 2016 census, there were over 2 million children whose parents were separated or divorced, which is a huge number. Between 1991 and 2011, 5 million Canadians separated or divorced, which is also a huge number. Of those 5 million people, 38% had a child with their ex-spouse at the time they separated or divorced. Some 1.16 million children of separated or divorced parents lived in single-parent households, and 1.2 million children lived with a step-parent.
Single-parent families, especially those headed by women, which was my case for a very long time, are more likely to be poor than two-parent families. That is so true. Studies have shown that child support is a key factor in lifting families out of poverty following separation or divorce.
It is hard for single mothers or single fathers—let us not forget about them—to feed their children properly if they are earning $12, $13, $14, or $15 an hour and not getting support payments. We know that young children need a lot of protein. As they grow they eat a lot. Apparently boys eat more than girls do. I have daughters only so I cannot speak to that, but we do have to take that into consideration. We have to focus on single-parent families, but we must put the child first in a bill such as this. The child's well-being is essential. We see more and more people ending up poor following a separation or divorce.
In budget 2018, the Liberals announced that they would work on expanding the unified family court program. They need to keep that promise and avoid playing politics with such sad, heart-wrenching, and pivotal cases that have an impact on a child or children, whether we are talking about separation or divorce.
That is why I support the intention and objectives of the bill to protect the best interests of the child and fight against family violence.