Common questions

Separation & Divorce

Yes. If you've been living in BC for at least one year and you're still living in BC, you can apply for a sole or joint undefended divorce in BC Supreme Court.

The Divorce Act says you can apply for a divorce in any province or territory where you or your spouse have been a resident for a year immediately before the divorce.

If your spouse agrees to the divorce, you can use one of our guides to help you do your own uncontested divorce.

No, it doesn't count as being married. The law doesn’t see you as married unless you've gone through a legally recognized marriage ceremony in either BC or somewhere else. But if you've lived together as a couple for two years, you're considered spouses and you'll have a lot of the same rights under BC provincial law as a married couple has. If you've been living together for one year, you’ll also have some of the same rights under federal law that married couples have.

For things like health insurance, government benefits (including retirement), and inheritance, you might have the same rights as married spouses if you live together.

If you separate, you’ll be treated like a married couple in certain situations.

When it comes to dividing property and debt, you're spouses under the law and the courts will treat you like a married couple if you lived together for at least two years before you broke up. See Dividing property and debts after you separate to find out more about this.

When it comes to spousal support, the courts will treat you like a married couple if you lived together for at least two years, or if you lived together for less than two years but you have a child together. See Spousal support to find out more about this.

For more information about your rights when you live with someone, speak to a lawyer. See Tips about getting legal help for where to find a lawyer.

Read Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce for some good general information about this.

By the way, it might be helpful to know that BC law doesn't talk about "common-law" relationships. You'll probably come across the expression "cohabitation," which means living together without getting married first.

You have to pay two separate court fees to get a divorce. It's $210 to file the first documents (a $200 filing fee, plus $10 for a Registration of Divorce), and then $80 to file your Final Application. If you decide to get a Certificate of Divorce, that's another $40. (There's no tax on these costs.)

You don't need to get a Certificate of Divorce when your divorce comes through, but you'll need it if you want to get married again. You can order a Certificate of Divorce any time you need it after your divorce has been finalized.

There are a few other costs you should know about. If you get your Affidavits sworn at the court registry, it's $40 for each Affidavit. If you don't have a certified copy of your marriage certificate or registration of marriage, you'll have to pay to get this as well. These are only court costs. You'll need to pay to get a process server to deliver your documents or to get your documents sworn anywhere other than the court registry.

If you can't afford to pay court fees, see Get an order to waive fees in Supreme Court.

The Divorce Act says you can get a divorce act on one of three grounds:

  • intentional separation for more than one year
  • adultery
  • physical or mental cruelty

Most divorces are granted because a couple has been separated for more than a year. See Separation and Divorce for more about this.

It's possible to be separated even though you're still living together in the same home, but you need to prove that you're not living as a married couple if this happens. See Proving you're separated if you and your spouse still live together for more about this.

You don't need to wait a year if you want to get a divorce because of either adultery (your spouse cheated on you) or physical or mental cruelty. But if you're applying on these grounds, you need to be able to prove the adultery or cruelty. So, unless your spouse is likely to admit to being adulterous or cruel, getting a divorce on those grounds will take more time and money than waiting for a year and getting a divorce that way.

You get a divorce to end a valid marriage. You get an annulment to end an invalid marriage.

You don't need to get married in a religious ceremony for your marriage to be valid in Canada. If you were married outside Canada, the laws of the place you were married are the ones that decide if your marriage is valid or not. But if the marriage was valid in the place it was performed, it will usually be valid in BC.

If you're not sure if your marriage is valid in BC, see Marriages, divorces, and annulments inside and outside Canada.

For example, your marriage might be invalid if you or your spouse were already married when you married each other, or if you and your spouse found out you were brother and sister. Some religious authorities will give you an annulment, but the law won't see this as cancelling your marriage.

Children

Delegated Aboriginal agencies have an agreement with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide certain child welfare services to Aboriginal communities. The ministry's website has a full list of delegated Aboriginal agencies in BC.

If a child protection worker contacts you or visits your home to ask questions about your family, they might be working for a delegated Aboriginal agency.

Delegated Aboriginal agencies might have the authority to:

  • remove your child from your home, and
  • place your child in foster care.
See Keeping Aboriginal Kids Safe or our information page on delegated Aboriginal agencies to find out more.

Many people believe that when children turn 12, they can choose which parent they'll live with, but this isn't true.

When your parents are trying to figure out where you'll live after they've separated or got a divorce, or if a judge is deciding, they have to make the decision based on something the law calls the child's best interests. This involves a bunch of things — not just what you want but also your relationship with each parent and their ability to take care of you.

If your parents or the judge think what you want isn't based on good reasons, or there are other important facts related to what's best for you, they can decide on living arrangements that you don't agree with.

If one parent's making it difficult for you to see your other parent, remember that you have a right to time with both your parents, if that's in your best interests.

To find out more, see:

The birth certificate registration only has information about the child's date and place of birth, and who the parents are. If you choose not to put the other parent's name on the birth certificate, that parent's legal relationship to the child is still the same, including their obligations to pay child support and their right to ask for:

  • guardianship
  • parenting time
  • parental responsibilities
  • contact with the child
  • custody
  • access

It's a good idea to get legal advice about this. See Tips about getting legal help for where to find a lawyer.

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When parents separate they usually make arrangements that let their children stay in touch with the families of both parents.

If this doesn't happen, relatives who want to maintain a relationship with a child have a couple of options. These include speaking with family justice counsellors, going to mediation, and going to court.

To find out more, see:

The age of majority in BC is 19. A child in BC can choose to leave home before they turn 19.

Their parent has a responsibility to financially support their child until they turn 19.

To find out more about child support if a child leaves home, see:

Abuse & Family Violence

Court-related abuse and harassment happens when one person (the law calls them a party in a family law action uses the legal system or repeated or ongoing legal actions to harass and abuse the other person. See If your spouse is harassing you through the courts for more detail about this.

If you're in this situation, you might be able to get free legal help. See Serious family problems and Tips about getting legal help to find out more about this.

Safe homes and transition houses provide temporary housing in a protected, secure environment. They're usually for women who're leaving abusive relationships. Their children can also stay there with them. You can usually stay at a safe home or transition house for up to 30 days.

The BC Housing website has a list of contacts for safe homes and transition houses throughout BC. Usually the addresses aren't given out to the general public. This is to protect the people who use them.

Tell your employment assistance worker or family maintenance worker if you're concerned about a violent spouse. The Ministry of Human Resources has a policy that it won't apply for support from your spouse against your wishes if you or your children are in danger of violence from your spouse.

Also, talk to an advocate before you go to the interview. To find an advocate in your community, see the Map of Advocates on the PovNet website.

You or your wife could contact police about getting a peace bond, based on incidents of abuse you've experienced. You could also help her apply for a protection order in family court. For more information, see the booklet For Your Protection: Peace Bonds and Family Law Protection Orders.

Another resource is VictimLink BC, which you can call at 1-800-563-0808 (no charge) to find out about local victim service providers.

Finances & Support

Children are entitled to be supported by their parents if they're under 19, or if they're 19 or over but can't support themselves because of illness, disability, or some other reason, such as going to school full-time. That means that sometimes parents who're separated or divorced must still financially support their children even after those children are legally adults (at age 19).

See When does child support end? to find out more about this.

Child support is based on the child support guidelines. These are a set of tables and rules that courts must use to decide on how much child support a payor has to pay.

See Child support for general information about child support and the child support guidelines. It also explains how to use the tables to work out how much you might have to pay.

And see When does child support end? for information about how long you might have to pay child support.

No, a new spouse of a payor is not responsible for making support payments. And usually the income and assets of a new spouse (of either a payor or a recipient) aren’t considered when child support amounts are being worked out.

The amount of child support is based on:

  • how much the payor earns,
  • how many children they have to support, and
  • where they live.

If one parent makes a claim of undue hardship, each parent's household income is considered. That includes the incomes of new spouses. But that still doesn't mean that a payor's or recipient’s new spouse becomes responsible for making child support payments. See Child support for more information about this.

If a child's parent separates from their new spouse, the new spouse might have to pay child support if they're considered to be a step-parent to the children under the BC Family Law Act. See Step-parents' rights and responsibilities for more about this.

The Ministry of Human Resources has a policy that it won't apply for support from your spouse against your wishes if you or your children are in danger of violence from your spouse.

Tell your employment assistance worker or family maintenance worker if you're worried about a violent spouse. And speak to an advocate before you go to the interview. Find an advocate near where you live on the PovNet website.

When it comes to dividing property and debts, couples who've lived together in a marriage-like relationship (you might call it being in a common-law relationship for two years are treated like married couples.

This means you equally share all the property you got during your relationship. If you buy a house while you live together, the house is considered family property, no matter whose name is registered on the title.

If you break up, you divide the property equally unless either of you paid some of the down payment or mortgage from money you had before you got together, or from an inheritance or gift to one person. That money will often be considered excluded property. You get your excluded property back and divide what's left equally.

If either of you bought property before you moved in together, you share the increase in value of the property since you started living together. (So, if the property increased in value by $100,000 during the time you lived together, you'd get $50,000 each.)

But if this would result in significant unfairness, a judge can order the increase to be divided in a different way.

To find out more about dividing property after you separate, see:

See Who to call and Where to go for information about different people and places that can help.

Legal system

If you can't afford to pay a lawyer for your whole family law case, you can still get help with parts of it from a lawyer. This is called getting unbundled legal services. It costs less than hiring a lawyer for your whole case.

Not all lawyers offer unbundled services. The People's Law School Directory of Lawyers is a list of lawyers who do offer them, and what languages they work in.

See Tips about getting legal help for other ways to get help.

"Unbundled" services means the lawyer doesn't represent you through your whole case. They just work on the parts you ask them to. You handle the rest of your case on your own.

It can cost less than hiring a lawyer for your whole case.

You and your lawyer make a plan to sort out your legal problem. The two of you break down your case into separate tasks and you choose what tasks you want help with and what tasks you'll handle on your own. It lets you work in a way that suits your budget and how comfortable you feel about managing your own case.

Not all lawyers offer unbundled services. The People's Law School Directory of Lawyers is a list of lawyers who do offer them, and what languages they work in. And see Tips about getting legal help for other ways to get help.

Judges hear many cases every day and don't have time to carefully read and memorize all the forms and documents they get. The judge will have a copy of any completed forms or trial books (if you're in Provincial Court) that you filed in the court registry but probably won't know exactly where to find specific information about your case.

This means you need to present your case to the judge in an organized, easy-to-follow way.

For example, it'll be much easier for the judge and the other person in your case (the law calls them the other party) to follow what you're saying if you make a list of your points or use the index of your trial book as your list when you're speaking. When you do this, say where the supporting information for each point is in your documents as you come to them so the other person and the judge can follow along.

If you're going to court for a first appearance in Provincial Court, the judge probably won’t know anything about your case. Ask family duty counsel for help if you're not sure what to do.

In the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, costs means a court order that says that the person (the law calls them a party) who loses in certain cases has to pay some of the legal expenses of the other person.

See Costs and expenses for more detailed information about how costs are worked out.

If you file your separation agreement at a court registry, the court can enforce the parts of your agreement to do with parenting and child and spousal support as if they were court orders. You can also apply for a consent order based on your agreement. See our step-by-step guides for how to get a consent order in Supreme Court or get a consent order in Provincial Court.

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