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New legislation in the works

Some say new bill will harm, not help children

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 21/02) - The territorial government is trying to change the way people seek child support from ex-partners who live in another province or territory.

According to the department of justice, the change is designed to speed up the process and make it easier. But some believe the proposed change actually puts NWT residents seeking child support at a disadvantage.

Arlene Hache: Easier for the department of justice, not for women

Under the current act, an applicant applying for child support gets a court order here and that order is sent to and confirmed in the jurisdiction where the other party lives. It involves two court hearings, one in each region.

The proposed change to legislation would wipe out the court hearing here and instead have the complainant fill out a detailed application form that would be transferred to the court where the other party resides.

"It's one court hearing as opposed to two," said Lucy Austin, senior advisor for family law at the department of justice.

"The idea is it will streamline and speed up the process for actually getting those orders," she said. "The provisional process can be slow."

The process for varying an order -- changing the amount of money paid -- will be conducted the same way.

The process will remain the way it is now -- two court hearings -- if the other jurisdiction does not have similar legislation.

Arlene Hache, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Centre, said the change will "give the entire advantage to the person who has decided to move -- or as most often happens -- ship out."

Having one hearing in a jurisdiction far away from where the person seeking support lives is unfair, she added.

"They don't get to make a representation other than a piece of paper that winds up in another province," Hache said.

Hache said the person who gets "to show their face" in court is in a better position because they can make statements -- statements which a form alone cannot contradict.

She added some women will have a hard time filling out the forms. "We fill out the most basic forms for people."

"I think this makes it cheaper and easier for (the department of justice) not for women, not for children, said Hache.

Asked whether the change will put parents seeking support at a disadvantage, Austin said: "the theory is they will fill in the forms and have all the information the court needs. That's hopefully how the process works."

If the court in another jurisdiction finds it doesn't have enough information, it can send the case back and ask for more information, she added.

Although this legislation is not yet in force anywhere in Canada, all jurisdictions in the country have introduced it excluding Quebec, Nunavut, Newfoundland and PEI.