There is no such thing as a "legal separation." If you're married or in a common-law relationship, you become separated as soon as you and your spouse start living apart with at least one of you wanting to separate. You don't need your spouse's permission to start living separately. You can tell others that you wish to separate, but you don't have to see a lawyer, sign a document, or go to court to be separated.

You might even still live in the same house to save money, but you're usually still considered separated if you don't share things like meals, a bedroom, and social activities.

If you're married, you'll be legally married until you get a court order for divorce. You don't need your spouse's permission to apply for a divorce. If you weren't married to each other, a divorce isn't necessary.

Note that there are important time limits if you want to apply for spousal support and/or divide property, debt, or a pension. See our fact sheets Spousal support and How to divide property and debts.

For an overview of separation, see the JP Boyd on Family Law website.

What to take with you if you leave

Here are some of the important documents and items you should take with you:

  • Your financial information, such as your tax returns for at least three years; plus bank account, credit card, investment, and debt statements; and copies of recent pay stubs
  • Your BC Services Card/CareCard (medicare card)
  • Your marriage certificate (if you were married)
  • Your passport, your children's passports, and any other immigration papers you may have
  • Your status card and identification
  • Your children's birth certificates and BC Services Cards/CareCards (medicare cards)
  • Your clothing and personal belongings and those of your children
  • If possible, photocopies of information about income and assets in your spouse's name alone, such as pay stubs, tax returns, company records and ledgers, bank accounts, investments, and RRSPs. Also write down your spouse's Social Insurance Number, BC Services Card/CareCard number, and date of birth. (These can be useful later if you have a dispute about money and property, or if you need to find your spouse.)
  • Medications and prescriptions for you and your children

Separation agreements

Many separating couples can agree about how they're going to deal with parenting, property, and child and spousal support without ever going to court. If you and your spouse or partner can come to an agreement, you'll save yourselves time, money, and emotional turmoil, as well as keep control of important decisions that affect your family. This is often called a separation agreement, and agreements about parenting are sometimes called parenting plans. (The provincial Family Law Act, however, only uses the term "agreements.")

For more information about agreements, see our fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? For information on drafting a legally binding separation agreement, see our self-help guide How to write your own separation agreement.

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