Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Hello to all of you enrolled in or considering the Family Law exam as an NCA elective. In today’s blog I'll discuss my experience with the Ontario Family Law NCA exam which will hopefully help you make decisions around your electives and/or preparation for the exam.
As you may know, the NCA recently updated the Family Law Exam to reflect the forthcoming changes to the Family Law Act. Note, that while the 2020 Divorce Act has been delayed to March 2021 due to COVID-19, the NCA has so far kept the materials on the Family Law Ontario Syllabus and expect students to be aware of the coming updates to the Divorce Act. Keep reading for some tips on how to excel in the currently transitional legal landscape and a detailed overview of the exam difficulty and what to focus on.
Overview of Changes
The Divorce Act 2020 improves upon the Divorce Act 1985 in many ways. The most notable change is the legislative prioritisation of the Child’s best interests. While always a key consideration of the courts under the 1985 Act, the 2020 Act puts the Best Interests of the Child at the forefront of courts’ consideration when making Parenting Orders (e.g. custody and access orders) and Contact Orders (access for 3rd parties, etc.). Accordingly, the court has broad discretion under the 2020 Act to make Parenting and 3rd Party Contact Orders—and impose conditions and special requirements on parents and 3rd parties—as they find most benefits the child(ren) in question. Additionally, many academic criticisms of the 1985 Act have been directly addressed by the 2020 Act.
As these changes are still very new, the textbook that the NCA assigns has not been updated but the NCA has advised students to substitute it with the Department of Justice (DoJ) Canada’s “The Divorce Act Changes Explained” which you can read online.
How to Study the New Syllabus
NCA candidates taking the Family Law examination in 2020 are expected to be familiar with these changes even before they come into effect in July 2020. Given that the law is currently in transition, having broad knowledge of the “old method” and the policy concerns that may have influenced some of the 2020 changes may be useful to you should the exam present an essay question asking you to compare the two Acts.
Additionally, demonstrating that you have knowledge of the significant changes in the 2020 Act, particularly where it has fixed glaring issues with the 1985 Act, may earn you “bonus points” in problem question answers. Being able to note that under the 1985 Act the court would have decided X, but under the 2020 Act a court would likely decide Y, will demonstrate a higher and impressive attention to detail.
Finally, obviously courts have not yet made decisions under the forthcoming 2020 Act. However, courts’ past approach and reasoning to ambiguous or broad language and concepts in the 1985 Act will still hold for analogous and similar concepts in the 2020 Act (e.g. “Best Interests of Child”).
As such, I have updated my fully colour-coded Family Law (Ontario) notes updated to reflect the 2020 Syllabus which you can find on NCA Tutor. These notes contain all the relevant content from the assigned textbook plus the pertinent legislative changes and DOJ commentary.
Studying the Course More Broadly
Read more below for a full overview of the exam difficulty, topics to focus on, tricky nuances to look out for, and a link to resources including my course overview mind map!