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Justice Minister David Lametti speaks with the media following a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 25, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Family law experts say the delay in implementing reforms to Canada’s Divorce Act is particularly untimely – coming just as they’re bracing for a surge of women seeking divorces after being cooped up for months with abusive partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reforms were to go into effect on July 1 but Justice Minister David Lametti announced late last week that has been postponed until next March.

Among other things, the highly anticipated reforms will, for the first time, provide a comprehensive definition of family violence and require the courts to take into account any instances of abuse when making decisions about custody and care of children.

Pamela Cross, legal director at Luke’s Place in Oshawa, Ont., a support centre for women leaving abusive relationships, says the delay is another example of the pandemic disproportionately impacting women.

She expects a surge in women initiating divorce actions this fall as stay-at-home restrictions relax, but says those cases will now have to begin under the pre-reform Divorce Act, which makes no mention of family violence.

Lametti has blamed the pandemic for the delay, saying it has shut down the courts and preoccupied provincial and territorial governments that need more time to align their laws and regulations with the new federal law.

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