Divorce and separation

Divorce is the end of a legal marriage. To get a divorce, you must go through a legal process and get a court order that says the marriage has ended. Separation is the first step of that process.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get legal aid for my family law problem?

Legal aid in BC, provided by the Legal Services Society (LSS), can take one of three possible forms: legal representation, legal advice, or legal information.

If you are financially eligible, you may be able to get legal representation and most legal advice for free. The eligibility guidelines for legal advice and for legal representation are separate. Legal information (plus some kinds of legal advice) is free to all British Columbians. If you're reading this page, you've already received a form of legal aid.

To find out more about legal representation for family law problems and what's covered, see the Serious family problems or Child protection matters pages on the LSS website. If you don't qualify for legal representation, you may still be eligible for legal advice services.

To find out for sure whether your particular case qualifies for legal representation, go to your local legal aid office (or call the provincial LSS Call Centre) to apply.

My same-sex partner and I were married in British Columbia, Canada 10 years ago, and we’re now separated. Neither of us ever lived in Canada, nor are we Canadian citizens. We both live in a country where same-sex marriage isn't recognized as legal. How and where can we file for divorce?

If your same-sex marriage is valid in BC but not recognized in the place where you live, and you can’t get a divorce there, you may be able to apply for a divorce in Canada under the Canadian federal Civil Marriage Act. This law allows non-resident couples to apply for a divorce in Canada. For more information and links to the forms you need, see our fact sheet Same-sex marriage/divorce: How to get a divorce if your home state in the US doesn't recognize the marriage.

Can my ex-spouse make me pay half their debts?

If you're married or have lived together for at least two years, the debts that either of you incurred while you were living together are considered family debt. When you break up, the starting point is that responsibility for all family debt is divided equally between you. This might not apply if it would be "significantly unfair" to divide it this way.

However, the person who you or your ex-spouse owe money to can only try to recover that debt from the person whose name is on the debt.

Am I married if we live common-law long enough?

No, you aren't married, but after two years, you have a lot of the same rights as a married couple would. And some federal benefits treat you as married spouses if you've been living together for one year.

You can't "become" married by default — you have to actively go and get married for the law to treat you and your partner exactly as it would a married couple. But when it comes to matters such as health insurance, government benefits (including retirement), and inheritance, you could be treated like married spouses. Generally, it takes two years together before this is the case, but many benefits are available after just one year of living together, or have no minimum requirements.

When it comes to dividing property and debt, the courts will treat you like a married couple if you had lived together for at least two years before you broke up. When it comes to determining spousal support, the courts will treat you like a married couple if you lived together for at least two years, or for less than two years but had a child together. See our fact sheets How to divide property and debts and Spousal support.

For more information, speak to a lawyer. We also have a booklet called Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce.

How much are the court fees for a divorce?

There are two separate court fees you have to pay to get a divorce: $210 when you file the first documents (a $200 filing fee, plus $10 for a Registration of Divorce); and $80 when you file the Final Application. You may also choose to pay another $40 for an optional Certificate of Divorce.

If you ever want to remarry, you'll have to have the Certificate of Divorce. You can order the Certificate of Divorce at any time after the divorce takes effect.

There are also some other costs involved in getting a divorce. If you choose to have your Affidavits sworn at the court registry, this will cost you $40 per Affidavit. If you don't have a certified copy of your marriage certificate or registration of marriage, you'll have to pay for this document as well. These are the court costs only, and don't cover the cost of having a process server deliver your documents or having your documents sworn anywhere other than the court registry.

Tip: If you can't afford to pay court fees, see our self-help guide called How to get an order to waive fees in Supreme Court.

How can I turn my separation agreement into a court order?

If you file your separation agreement at a court registry, the court can enforce the parts of your agreement that have 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 the terms of your agreement (see our step-by-step guide to getting a consent order).

If you have a lawyer, he or she can advise you about which court would be appropriate.

For more information, see our fact sheet Making an agreement after you separate. For help with drafting a legally binding separation agreement, see our self-help guide How to write your own separation agreement.

I was married in another country. Is that marriage valid here?

Generally, if your marriage was valid where it was performed, BC will recognize it. There are some exceptions, however. See Foreign marriages on the JP Boyd on Family Law website for information about when a marriage might be considered invalid.

I was married overseas. Can I divorce here?

If your marriage is valid to begin with (see above) and you satisfy BC's other requirements for getting a divorce, then you can divorce here. For a list of those other requirements, see the Separation and Divorce page on JP Boyd on Family Law website. (Note that one of the spouses must have lived in BC for at least one year before you can start the divorce.)

We were married in BC. Do we have to divorce in BC?

No. A valid foreign divorce is valid in BC. Technically, this is only true if one of the spouses lived for at least one year in the country where the divorce was granted. However, this requirement is usually not important in practice. It only comes up if one spouse claims that the divorce isn't valid and that rarely happens.

What is the procedure when the court registry returns documents I submitted for an undefended divorce?

Do I redo and refile only the returned documents or do all the "second-round" documents need to be refiled as well?

When the court registry returns undefended divorce documents, they also include a form that sets out the reasons (for example, something is missing or incorrect). You only need to redo the documents that need corrections. If you like, you can also write a brief note to the court explaining the changes(s) you've made. You resubmit the corrected documents along with the form and any other documents that were returned by the court registry. Generally, there are no court filing fees for resubmitting the documents. However, if you needed to redo an affidavit, you'll have to pay a fee for swearing the affidavit again.

When you resubmit your divorce application, the registry staff gives everything to the judge for review. If the judge approves the documents, the judge will sign the Divorce Order.

If you have questions about returned documents in an undefended divorce proceeding, you can contact a court clerk at the BC Supreme Court divorce registry where you submitted the documents. Note that they can’t provide legal advice such as how to make a specific correction.

Is a divorce from another country valid in BC?

Yes. Technically, the law says it's only valid if one spouses lived in the other country for at least one year before starting the divorce. In practice, though, this residency requirement doesn't usually matter. It only comes up if one spouse claims that the divorce isn't valid and that rarely happens.

What is collaborative family law?

If you and your spouse or common-law partner decide to divorce or separate, instead of going to court, you can agree to work together with lawyers who practise collaborative family law to find acceptable solutions that work for both of you.

In the collaborative family law process, both you and your spouse or partner are represented by your own lawyer. The collaborative process focuses on your needs and your children's needs. Communication between you and your spouse/partner is open and full and you and your spouse/partner are encouraged to reach your own decisions about issues that are important to you. See Collaborative family lawyers for more information.

Can I get a divorce if we've been separated for less than a year?

In March 2007, I married a Frenchman who planned to move to Canada after we married. We were married in BC. We've never lived together, and within the first week of marriage, we realized we had made a mistake. My question now is must we still wait the full year of separation before filing for divorce?

Under the Divorce Act, a divorce may be granted on one of three grounds: intentional separation for more than one year, adultery, or physical or mental cruelty.

Most divorces are granted on the basis of intentional separation for more than a year. Separation begins when one or both parties decide to end the marital relationship and live separately and apart. It may be possible to be separated while living in the same home, provided that the marital aspects of the relationship have ended.

It's possible to get a divorce more quickly by basing it on the grounds of either adultery or physical or mental cruelty. However, you must be able to prove the adultery or cruelty. (You must also sue the person your spouse was adulterous with.)

So, unless your spouse is willing to admit to being adulterous or cruel, the process is likely to be far more expensive than waiting for the one-year separation period to pass.

It's best to talk to a lawyer before deciding to seek a divorce on grounds other than separation. See Who can help? for more information about how to find a lawyer.

Which name should I use on the divorce forms: my maiden name or my married name?

When you got married, your name didn't automatically change. You're allowed to use your spouse's surname, but a formal name change wasn't necessary.

When you apply for a divorce, the first form you'll fill out is called the Notice of Family Claim (Form 3). When you fill out this form, use the name that appears on your marriage certificate. If you've used another name since that time, then add "also known as" where it asks for the name on the marriage certificate. If you use our self-help guide for starting a family law case, this is further explained in the instructions for the Notice of Family Claim.

See Legal Changes of Name on the BC government website for more information about name changes.

How do I get a copy of a divorce certificate?

Anytime after 31 days have passed and the divorce has become final, you can go back to the registry to ask for a Certificate of Divorce (Form F56). As of March 2013, the cost is $40 per certificate.

Important: This step isn't mandatory. If you don't go to the court registry to get a Certificate of Divorce, your divorce will still be legal. If you ever have to show legal proof of your divorce, you can use your Divorce Order. In some countries, however, you may need this certificate to remarry.

To apply for the Certificate of Divorce, you need to fill out a Requisition (Form F17) and take the form, your court file number, and payment to the registry where your divorce is filed. For more information, see How Do I Get My Certificate of Divorce? on the JP Boyd on Family Law Clicklaw Wikibook.

I filed a separation agreement with the court a few years ago and now I'm applying for a divorce. Do I have to fill out an Affidavit (Desk Order Divorce) and Child Support Affidavit, or can I just refer to the separation agreement where we spelled all this out?

Even though you've already filed a separation agreement, you still need to fill out an Affidavit (Desk Order Divorce) and Child Support Affidavit.

When you prepare affidavits describing the arrangements made for parenting and support, draw the court's attention to the filed separation agreement.

Our online divorce guide (for sole applicants) contains further instructions for completing the forms.

What is the difference between annulment and divorce?

A divorce is the proceeding you take to end a valid marriage. Annulment is the proceeding you take to end an invalid marriage.

For example, a marriage might be invalid if one spouse was already married when he or she married the other, or if the husband and wife found out they were brother and sister.

If you were married outside of Canada, the question of whether a marriage is valid is determined by the laws of the place where the marriage occurred. So if the marriage was valid where it was performed, it will generally be considered valid here in BC too.

Important: Some religious authorities grant annulments, but these annulments don't legally cancel the marriage.

Is there a way for me to do my own annulment?

It may be difficult to do so. You'll need to apply to the BC Supreme Court for an order to annul the marriage based on a valid reason. Use our self-help guide How to start a family law case in Supreme Court.

You should also get a legal opinion on your matter by speaking to a lawyer through the Lawyer Referral Service.

You may find it's easier to apply for a divorce 12 months after separating, using our self-help divorce guide.

If I got an annulment in another country, is it valid in BC?

If your annulment is legally valid in the country where it was granted, it's valid in BC. However, an annulment that comes from a religious authority (instead of a court) isn't valid in BC.

How do I get proof of my divorce if I've lost my original order or certificate?

I divorced (final decree) in January 1978. I have no idea where any of the papers that came to me at that time might be. They may have been thrown out. However, I would like to get married again and need to prove that I am divorced. My ex-husband won't give me the details and I don't have anybody who can help me.

For information about how to get a copy of a divorce certificate, see How do I get my divorce certificate? on the Courthouse Services website (Government of BC). This page includes a link to the addresses and phone numbers of all Supreme Court registries in BC and a link to the Central Divorce Registry in Ottawa in case you can't remember which Supreme Court location issued your divorce.

My divorce was started in BC, but I live overseas. How do I know if I'm officially divorced?

You can call the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings for Canada, located in Ottawa, Ontario. They can tell you whether you have a divorce order, and if so, where it's filed. See How do I get my divorce certificate? on the Courthouse Services website for a link to the Central Registry and information about how to get a copy of the final divorce order.

What can I do if I'm not sure whether my divorce ever went through?

I recently started the process for a divorce with my ex-husband. My ex took care of the paperwork, and I've signed and returned all the forms to him. I currently live in Australia and he lives in BC, Canada. To date, I haven't received any kind of confirmation that the divorce has been filed and finalized. How can I find out if it has and get proof of that?

If you're not sure whether or not your divorce has been finalized, call the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings for Canada, located in Ottawa, Ontario. They can tell you whether you have a divorce order and if so, where it's filed.

If your divorce was filed in BC, see How do I get my divorce certificate? on the Government of BC's Courthouse Services website for information about how to get a copy of the final divorce order. This page also contains contact information for the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings.

I was married in Vancouver, BC, and then I moved to the United States with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I left him two years after we moved there. My divorce papers are going through the court system in the US and will be finalized soon. How do I let Ottawa/Stats Canada know my divorce has been finalized?

I would like to get remarried soon and would like to get this cleared up.

Divorce proceedings don't need to be started in the same place where you married; they can be started in the province/state/country where either you or your soon-to-be ex currently live, using the law of that province/state/country. So you can start and finalize divorce proceedings in the US even though you were married in Canada.

If you continue to live in the US (or any other country) after the divorce is finalized, it's generally not necessary to inform the Canadian government of your new marital status. If you want to remarry in the US, consult a family law lawyer or legal hotline in the city where you live for legal information about what proof of divorce you need to show to remarry.

If you move back to Canada and wish to remarry, a divorce order that was properly granted outside of Canada can serve as your proof of divorce — you don't need to get a Canadian divorce order.

For more information, see our fact sheet Frequently asked questions about marriages, divorces, and annulments inside and outside Canada, and BC lawyer JP Boyd's Divorce page, particularly "Foreign Divorce Orders").

My spouse applied for divorce and had me served with divorce papers about ten months ago but nothing has happened since. What if my spouse refuses to proceed?

When your spouse is the claimant , you (the respondent) have several options:

  • ask your spouse or their lawyer to resume the divorce proceedings, or
  • ask your spouse to withdraw their pleadings (the Notice of Family Claim) by filing a court form called a "Notice of Withdrawal." Once they've done this, you may start your own divorce proceedings by filing a Notice of Family Claim (see our self-help guide Do your own undefended (uncontested) divorce), or
  • if your spouse doesn't agree to withdraw their pleadings, you can file a "Response to Family Claim" along with a "Counterclaim" seeking a divorce to get the proceedings moving again.

I've been living in BC for many years. Can I apply for an undefended divorce in BC if my spouse lives outside of BC?

Yes. If you've been living in BC for at least one year and continue to live in BC, you can apply for a sole or joint undefended divorce in BC Supreme Court. The Canada Divorce Act states that a provincial court can deal with a divorce proceedings when either spouse has been living in the province for at least one year immediately before applying. If your spouse agrees to the divorce, you can use the self-help guide Do your own undefended (uncontested) divorce.

I submitted my undefended divorce application, but it was rejected. What do I do?

If an undefended divorce application is rejected by the court registry, some (or all) of your documents are returned, along with a notice setting out the reasons why. Usually a document is returned because of an error or because information is missing. You must redo and resubmit any form that has an error or is missing information. Only the documents that the registry returned to you for correction have to be revised and resubmitted, along with their notice about the reasons. (If any other documents were returned by the court registry, resubmit them as well.)

Generally, there are no court filing fees for resubmitting document(s). However, if the document is an affidavit, you’ll need to pay a fee for swearing the affidavit again. When you resubmit your documents, registry staff give your entire application to a judge, noting the mistakes and the changes. If necessary, ask the BC Supreme Court divorce registry (where your application was rejected) for more information before resubmitting your application.

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