Journal Article

Context and Inclusivity in Canada's Evolving Definition of the Family

Nicholas Bala and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 16, issue 2, pages 145-180
Published in print August 2002 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online August 2002 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/16.2.145
Context and Inclusivity in Canada's Evolving Definition of the Family

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Historically, the legal definition of the family was based on heterosexual marriage and links to biological children. Prompted by changing social values and the Charter of Rights, Canadian legislatures and courts have dramatically extended the range of relationships having familial rights and obligations. Canada recognizes the legal status of psychological parents, support rights for adult children and filial support obligations. At present, the greatest controversies concern the inclusion of non‐traditional spousal relationships within the concept of the family, as unmarried cohabitants and same‐sex partners in long‐term relationships have gained many of the rights and obligations of marriage. The Law Commission of Canada recommends legal recognition of a broader range of non‐conjugal ‘close personal adult relationships’. Arguments are also being made for legal recognition of polygamous marriage. While there are legal contexts for which an extension of familial rights to non‐conjugal close personal relationships is appropriate, for purposes of ‘family law’, conjugality should remain a central concept. Adults living in relationships that do not involve the expectations and interdependencies of conjugal (or ‘spousal’) relationships should not have obligations that continue after they have ceased to reside together. Relationships where the adults actually have responsibility for the care of children should generally be protected, but there are strong arguments for not giving legal sanction to polygamous relationships.

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Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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