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Family Law Blog

How Common Law Separation Works in BC

How Common Law Separation Works in BC

An interesting stat came up at the Westside Family Law office this week that raised eyebrows. The number of common-law families in British Columbia is growing at a rate three times faster than the number of married couple families.

We often use this blog to discuss issues relating to divorce and the separation of property when a marriage dissolves. Unfortunately, the growing number of those living together in a marriage-like relationship (AKA a common-law relationship) often aren’t aware they share many of the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple – especially when it comes to separation and the division of property.

Let’s redress this balance and clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding common law separation and how property is divided here in British Columbia.

What Exactly is a Spouse?

Think of how you define the word ‘spouse.’ It’s likely somebody that’s married, right?

Not so fast!

Under the BC Family Law Act, an individual is considered a spouse if they satisfy one of the following criteria:

  • You are or were married
  • You have lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship, sometimes called common-law, for a certain period of time

The law is quite clear. Marriage isn’t required for someone to be considered a spouse, alongside all the rights and responsibilities to go along with the term. For the purposes of dividing property or debt, you must have lived together for a minimum of two years. If you happen to have a child together, that two-year time barrier is removed.

In the eyes of the law, the start date of the spousal relationship is the day two individuals began living together in a marriage-like relationship, or the day they were married – whichever comes first. This start date has major repercussions with respect to the division of property in a separation.

Common Law Separation – Dividing Property

BC’s Family Law Act divides property in the same manner whether you are a divorcing married couple, or a common-law couple separating. Both parties equally share all the property they amassed during their relationship. It doesn’t matter whose name is listed as the owner, or what contribution each spouse made to the acquisition of the property.

Common assets which couples have upon separation that are considered shared assets include: 

  •   The family home
  •   Other land or property assets
  •   Investments
  •   Businesses
  •   Pensions
  •   Bank accounts
  •   Insurance policies
  •   RRSPs

Exceptions to this Rule

While the family home is typically separated equally, there are some important distinctions to make. If one party paid the down payment or part of the mortgage from money they had before the relationship, or from an inheritance or gift, it’s considered excluded property and belongs that that individual.

If either party bought the property before moving in together, any increase in the value of the property during that time is considered family property, but the property itself belongs to that individual.

This is a Complex Issue – We’re Standing by to Assist

Family law can be complicated, especially when it comes to emotive issues like separation and the division of property. As family law experts, the team at Westside Family Law has been a trusted advisor to countless clients going through this challenging process. Need assistance with any aspect of dividing property during a separation? Contact us and we’ll be happy to assist.