Lesson 3: Family Law


Activity 1: What is a “Family” in Canada?

Give students Handout 1: What is a “Family” in Canada? and ask them, “How has the family changed in the past ten years in Canada?” Statistics Canada defines family as married couples with or without children, unmarried couples in common law relationships with out or with children as well as lone or single parents with children.

Today’s Canadian families come in many shapes and sizes: approximately 2.8 million people are in common law relationships, same-sex couples, blended families with at least one step child, extended families with children, parents, grandparents sharing a common home and finances or two income families with or without children.

Activity 2: Legal Requirements of Marriage

Introduce the basics of the legal requirements of marriage and common law partnerships by handing out Handout 2: Legal Requirements of Marriage (This includes rights and obligations, essentials such as mental capacity, close relationships, genuine consent, minimum age; formal requirements such as marriage licenses, marriage ceremony, age requirements and registration of the marriage.)

Present students with a case study Re Al Smadi (1994) 90 Man. R 2d 304 by handing out Handout 3: Underage Marriage: A Case Study with accompanying critical thinking questions.

Optional Activity: Handout 4: Same Sex Marriage Equal Under the Law and give students about 5 minutes to answer the question. Discuss with students what same-sex marriage is and its impact on Canadian law and society. Facilitate a class debate but remember that this can be a hot topic that has many different opinions based on morals and religion. Gauge the class as you discuss students’ opinions.

The proposition is: Legal same-sex marriage was granted by law on June 2005 by Bill C-38. Same-sex couples should have the same rights under the law to marry, have children, divorce, have access to estates after death and be treated equally under the law as heterosexual couples do.

The biggest issue here is that same-sex couples be treated the same under the law to be able to divorce, be part of the estate when a spouse dies and be able to adopt children like any heterosexual couple.

Activity 3: A Simplified Mediation Process- Optional

Provide students with Handout 5: What Happens When Families Break Up? and introduce mediation in relation to the family and the advantages of mediation by handing out Handout 6: A Simplified Mediation Process. Students will use this handout as a guide when they are preparing their roles for a simulation exercise on Handout 7: A Family Law Mediation Simulation. Place students in groups of three where they will participate in a mock group mediation session. Actual family mediations may bring up some personal issues for students so the case for mediation is not a family case.


Two classmates are in a dispute about an iPhone that was damaged. Joe owns the phone and Sally borrowed it. When Sally returned the phone it did not work. She says it is Joe’s lousy phone and he claims that it is all her fault. Joe wants Sally to pay for the repairs and Sally refuses. Both students have been complaining to their other friends so it is becoming an uncomfortable situation at school with so many people involved. It has led to a break in their friendship and name calling. They decide to participate in the school mediation program to resolve the issue.

Activity 4: Discussion and Writing: Family Story

Have students read Handout 9: Rights of Children and Responsibilities of Parents.

Cut out a picture of an "average" family from a magazine. Make sure that the people in the picture are not famous or identifiable. Ask the class to make up details about the family members, such as education, occupations, interests, hobbies, and activities. Record these on the board.

Divide the class into small groups and give each group the information below. Ask the groups to discuss what is happening in the family, why it is happening, and what will happen next.

This family has a lot of friends and the children generally do well in school. However, at home, the children have a problem. Their father is very strict and often hits the children when they misbehave. The children are sometimes afraid of him. Their mother worries that he is hitting the children more and more often. The children also witness their father being physically and mentally abusive to their mother.

Using what they have learned in this lesson, students will write an ending to this story. They should consider:

  • The fact that children have the right to be protected from harm
  • The responsibilities that parents have to protect their children
  • The fact that beating one’s spouse is not tolerated in Canada and that it is considered reasonable grounds for divorce
  • Where to go for help
  • What should happen if the family breaks up