You've probably heard the term "legal separation," but there's no such thing in BC.

If you're married or in a common-law relationship, the law says you've separated:

  • as soon as you and your spouse start living apart, and
  • at least one of you wants to end your relationship.

If you want to separate from your spouse and live without them, you don't need to:

  • ask your spouse's permission,
  • see a lawyer,
  • sign any documents, or
  • go to court.

After you've separated:

  • you might still live in the same house as your spouse to save money, but
  • you'll usually be treated as separated if you don't share things like meals, a bedroom, and social activities.

See Proving you're separated if you and your spouse still live together for more information on staying in the same house after you've separated.

Do you have to get a divorce?

If you're legally married, the law says you'll stay married until you get a court order for a divorce. You don't need to ask your spouse first if you want to apply for a divorce.

If you weren't married, you don't need a divorce.

There are certain time limits if you want to:

  • apply for spousal support, or
  • divide property, debt, or a pension.

See Spousal support and Dividing property and debts after you separate for more about this.

The Separation & Divorce page of the JP Boyd on Family Law Wikibook has a lot of helpful information about separation and divorce. It also explains some of the legal terms used in separation and divorce.

What to take with you if you leave

Here are some of the things you should take with you if you leave your spouse:

  • Your financial information. For example:
    • your tax returns for at least the past three years
    • bank account, credit card, investment, and debt statements
    • copies of recent pay stubs
  • Your BC Services Card or CareCard (if it’s not part of your driver's licence)
  • Your marriage certificate (if you're married)
  • Your Secure Certificate of Indian Status (secure status card) or Certificate of Indian Status (status card)
  • Your passport and any immigration papers
  • Your medications and prescriptions
  • Your clothing and personal belongings
  • If your children are moving with you, their:
    • birth certificates
    • BC Services Cards or CareCards
    • Secure Certificates of Indian Status (secure status cards) or Certificates of Indian Status (status cards)
    • passports
    • medications and prescriptions
    • clothing and personal belongings

If you can, bring:

  • photocopies of information about any income and assets that are in your spouse's name only. For example, your spouse's:
    • pay stubs
    • tax returns
    • company records and ledgers
    • bank accounts
    • investments
    • RRSPs
    • TFSAs
  • details about your spouse's:
    • Social Insurance Number
    • BC Services Card or CareCard number
    • date of birth

These details about your spouse might help later if:

  • you disagree about money and property, or
  • you lose contact with your spouse and need to find them.

Separation agreements

Many couples who separate can agree about how they're going to deal with certain things without going to court. For example:

  • parenting,
  • dividing up property, and
  • paying child and spousal support

It might seem impossible right now, but if you and your spouse can make an agreement, you'll:

  • save yourselves time, money, and stress, and
  • keep control of important decisions that affect your family.

This type of agreement is called a separation agreement.

Agreements about parenting are sometimes called parenting plans.

But the provincial Family Law Act only talks about "agreements." It doesn't give them different names.

For more information on agreements, see:

For information on writing a legally binding separation agreement (that is, it's filed with the court and you have to do what it says), see Write your own separation agreement.