Separation: Protecting yourself financially

After you separate, you might be concerned about what will happen to your property while you're trying to agree on how it'll be divided. This fact sheet deals with the steps you can take to deal with and protect your property before final agreements or court orders are in place.


Gather information

It's a good idea to begin gathering information about your property as soon as you separate. Make a list of bank accounts, RRSPs, pensions, cars, properties, etc., as well as any debts. Record whatever information you can. Make copies of documents or keep originals whenever possible.

Your separation date

The date you and your spouse separated is important. It's what you own and what you owe on that date that'll be considered family property when you divide your property and debts.

To make it clear you've separated, you can tell people or write it down.

How to protect real property (land, houses) from being sold or borrowed against

You have a few options for protecting property from being sold or borrowed against.

The difference between filing an entry or filing a certificate

You can file an entry under the Land (Spouse Protection) Act or file a certificate under the Land Title Act. See the chart below to figure out if one would work for your situation.

Entry under the Land (Spouse Protection) Act

Certificate under the Land Title Act

Will stop the property from being sold without the permission of the person who filed the entry

Lets anyone who looks at the title know that there's a legal dispute about the property

Only spouses can file

Spouses and people who've been in a relationship for less than two years can file

Don't have to start a court case

Court case must be started (by filing a Notice of Family Claim)

When only one spouse is the registered owner of the property

When both parties are registered owners of the property

Can be filed only against the family home

Can be filed against any real property you're making a claim for in the Notice of Family Claim or Counterclaim

Must not be divorced when filing, and protection ends when divorce order is made

Protection continues as long as certificate is filed

Must be filed within one year of moving out of the family home

n/a

Property must be located in BC

Property must be located in BC

n/a

Person applying must live in BC and be 19 or older

Need a lawyer or a notary public to help you file with the Land Title and Survey Authority Office (electronic filing only)

Can file on your own at the Land Title and Survey Authority Office (electronic or in-person filing)

How to file an entry under the Land (Spouse Protection) Act

You'll need to get a lawyer or notary public to help you file an entry under the Land (Spouse Protection) Act. The forms must be filed electronically and only someone with a Land Title and Survey Authority Enterprise Account can do that. Often lawyers and notaries have these accounts.

The forms you must submit to file an entry under the Land (Spouse Protection) Act are available on the Canlii website.

How to file a certificate under the Land Title Act

To file a certificate:

  1. Ask for an interest in the property in your Notice of Family Claim (Form F3) or Counterclaim (Form F5). (See our Court forms page for the forms and instructions.) To do this, fill out Schedule 4 and identify the property in the Schedule as part of your claim:
    • On Schedule 4, check "The claimant is applying for a Certificate of Pending Litigation to be registered against the following real property:" then list the property in the space that follows. (If you've already filed your Notice of Family Claim or Counterclaim and didn't check this box, you can still apply for the certificate.)
  2. Get a title search of the property from the Land Title and Survey Authority.
  3. Fill out a Certificate of Pending Litigation [FLA] form (Form 33 — Land Title Act).
  4. Take the Notice of Family Claim or Counterclaim that you've filed at the court registry and the completed certificate to the land title office. To find out where to take the documents in your community, contact:

Land Title and Survey Authority Customer Service Centre
(Monday to Friday; 8:00 am to 4:30 pm)

604-630-9630 (Greater Vancouver)
1-877-577-5872 (no charge, elsewhere in BC)

Staff at the Land Title and Survey Authority can't give you legal advice or assist you with forms.  If you need help, get it before you go there to file your certificate.

File a Notice of Property Agreement under the Family Law Act

If you have an agreement that deals with your real property (land or houses), you can file a Notice of Property Agreement against the title of the property with the Land Title and Survey Authority (see section 99 of the Family Law Act). You can file the notice even if you haven't gone to court yet. The notice will prevent the other party from transferring, selling, leasing, or otherwise dealing with the property while the notice is in place. To do this:

  1. Fill out, sign, and have witnessed a Notice of Property Agreement (Form 41 — Land Title Act).
  2. Take the signed and witnessed notice to the land title office. To find out where to take the documents in your community, contact:

Land Title and Survey Authority Customer Service Centre
(Monday to Friday; 8:00 am to 4:30 pm)

604-630-9630 (Greater Vancouver)
1-877-577-5872 (no charge, elsewhere in BC)

Staff at the Land Title and Survey Authority can't give you legal advice or assist you with forms. If you need help, get it before you go there to file your notice.

Apply for a restraining order (or other court orders affecting property)

The BC Supreme Court can make interim orders about property before you make final decisions or get final orders about how you're going to divide your property.

You can ask the court for an order that:

  • Protects property if you're worried that the other party might do something with it to keep you from getting your fair share. You can apply for an order that your spouse not be allowed to sell or transfer the property (sometimes called a “restraining order”). This is useful if you need to act quickly or the property isn't land or a house (section 91 of the Family Law Act and Rule 12-1 of the Supreme Court Family Rules).

You can also ask the court for other types of interim orders that:

  • Require one spouse to make certain payments such as mortgages and household bills (section 226 of the Family Law Act).
  • Say how the property (including money) can be used to pay for resolving your family law issues (section 89 of the Family Law Act).   
  • Say which spouse can stay in the family home (section 90 Family Law Act).

These types of orders don't affect rights to ownership or the final division of property.

To apply for these orders, start a court action (by filing a Notice of Family Claim). (See our self-help guide How to start a family law case.)

If it's urgent, you can apply for these orders without letting the other party know (called making an "an order without notice").  But if you do that you must be very careful to give the court all the information (disclosure) about your situation — even information that doesn't help your case. If you don't, the court can set aside the order (replace your order with another) and make you pay costs to the other party.

For more information

For more information about protecting property (and dealing with debts) in family law matters, see our factsheets How to divide property and debts and Dealing with debts after separation (for married and common-law couples) or see Protecting Property & Debt in Family Law Matters in the JP Boyd on Family Law Wikibook.

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