Family Structures and Canadian Family Law

AuthorJulien D. Payne/Marilyn A. Payne
Chapter 1
Family Structures and Canadian
Family Law
e term “fam ily” does not have a precise legal denition. L aw tends to regu-
late the rights and obligations of individua ls, as distinct from groups, such
as families, howe ver they may be constituted. C anadian fa mily law might
more properly be called the “ law of persons” insofar as it concentrates on the
rights of indiv iduals whose fa mily relationships have become dysfunct ional.
In short, Canad ian family l aw deals prim arily with the pathology of family
breakdown and its lega l consequences.
People often perceive “marri age” and “family” as sy nonymous, but these
words are not interchangeable in law. e term “ family” is elusive and dees
exact denition. Many, but not all, Canadi an famil ies are the products of a
marria ge. More often than not, the presence of ch ildren signi es a family
relationship. Children may be born within or outside of marr iage. eir par-
ents may or may not live together. e parents may have lived toget her before
or after the birt h of the child, but may no longer do so by rea son of separa-
tion or divorce. Some children a re adopted. In relatively rare situations, a
child ’s birth may have resulted from sur rogate parenting arrangements or
the use of new reproductive tech nologies. Children are usu ally fami ly mem-
bers of the household in which t hey reside but this is not invar iably true.
Some children do not live w ith either of their parents or w ith aunts, uncles,
or grandparents. ey m ay live in foster homes or even with friends or neigh -
bours. A new de facto fa mily may co-exist w ith the family of origin.
Family relationships c an exist when t here is neither marr iage nor a
parent–child or ancest ral relationship. Unmarried couples of the opposite
sex or same sex may be rega rded as members of the same family for socia l or
legal purposes.

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