If you're married, getting a divorce order is the only way to legally end your marriage. To get a divorce, you must file a Notice of Family Claim in the BC Supreme Court. You must apply to court for a divorce even if you and your ex-spouse agree about getting divorced and have settled all your parenting, support, and property and debt issues.

You can get a divorce if you and your spouse have lived separately for one year. The court will grant a divorce as long as the court is satisfied that you've made "reasonable arrangements for the children." This means that child support is being paid for the children following the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

To get a divorce in BC, at least one spouse must live in BC and have lived here for 12 months before you apply.

You can also get a divorce if:

  • you or your spouse has committed adultery (been unfaithful) that hasn't been forgiven, or
  • your spouse treated you with physical or mental cruelty that you haven't forgiven, which makes it impossible for you to continue to live together.

But to get a divorce for these reasons you have to prove these things in court, so most people just wait a year.

The majority of divorces are uncontested or undefended divorces (about 80 percent). That means that the divorcing couple have agreed on how they're going to settle their parenting, support, and property issues. But they still need a court order for the divorce.

Uncontested divorce

If you and your spouse agree on how to deal with your parenting, support, and property and debt issues, you can apply for an uncontested or undefended divorce. This is also called a "desk-order divorce."

If the forms you file with the court are in order and you've made reasonable arrangements for child support payments, the judge will grant the divorce without you going to court.

For step-by-step instructions on how to apply for an uncontested divorce, see our self-help guide.

Contested divorce

If you and your spouse want to get divorced but can't agree about parenting, support, and/or how to divide property and debt, you may have to apply for a contested divorce (also known as a defended divorce). This doesn't mean you disagree about whether you should get divorced. You don't need your spouse to agree to a divorce for the court to order one.

Instead, you're asking the judge to decide about parenting, support, and/or property and debt.

Some people begin the court process because they don't agree on the issues, but then reach an agreement before the trial is held. Sometimes this happens before a trial date is even set and sometimes it happens the day before a trial starts.

The process for getting a contested divorce is complicated. You start by filing a Notice of Family Claim (Form F3), but once your spouse files his or her Response to Family Claim (Form F4), things can get complicated and you should seek the assistance of a lawyer. (The process can take many paths, so we don't offer a step-by-step guide for it on this website.)

Even if your spouse files a Response to Family Claim, you might still be able to reach an agreement on your parenting, support, and property and debt issues. See Who can help you reach an agreement? for more information.

If you can't come to an agreement about all of your issues, a judge will decide at a trial.

It can take a long time to have a trial scheduled and the whole process is time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. It's also very hard on any children involved. So before you go down that path, consider all the options for settling your differences.

If you're waiting for a trial, you can ask the court to make interim orders. You can get interim orders about parenting and support in either Provincial Court or Supreme Court. You can get orders about property only in Supreme Court. (See our step-by-step guide on how to get an interim order in Supreme Court if you and the other party can't agree.)

Getting legal help

You don't have to have a lawyer to get a divorce, whether defended or undefended, but it's strongly recommended that you do get some legal advice, especially if you need to settle issues about parenting, support, and/or property and debt.

If you don't have a lawyer to represent you, the Justice Access Centre in Vancouver and Nanaimo can help you get the information you need to prepare your own case for a contested divorce. You'll need to go to the centre in person, or you can use the Vancouver centre's online self-help resources.

If you live in other parts of the province, your nearest BC Courthouse Library might be able to help you research how to do a contested divorce.

Our Court forms page has links to the forms that you can download. You'll be starting with the Notice of Family Claim (Form F3).

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