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Can spouses be separated while living in the same residence?

The obvious answer seems like it should be "no," but the real answer is "yes." There is no official legal action that must be taken in British Columbia courts to separate from a spouse, a term that includes long-term unmarried partners as well as married individuals. Spouses separate and divorce at will, without requiring permission from one another.

While there is no legal separation in British Columbia, married and common law couples may formalize childcare, support and property division terms with legal separation agreements. The marriage or relationship remains intact until a court dissolves the legal bond between married and common law couples with divorce.

Living apart can take place when one or both spouses move out or while the spouses remain in the same household. That may seem odd until you consider sharing the same roof could be beneficial for the children shared by the spouses or in some cases, could ease strained finances. While you don't need a spouse's stamp of approval to separate, you may need a court to recognize the separation.

It is necessary to establish independent lives to be declared separate while living together. To do that, you must stop doing the things you once did as spouses like sleeping, making meals, eating, socializing and vacationing together. End joint tax filings, shared family celebrations, couples counseling, extended family visits and sex.

In short, you must live as if you are not married within the same residence to satisfy the court.

If you are moving out of the marital home, take along documents vital to your future including identification papers, tax returns, financial statements, birth certificates, asset and debt records, your marriage certificate and any of these same documents that apply to your children. This is not a comprehensive list – a family law attorney can assist you with this task and other aspects of separation and divorce.

Source: Family Law in British Columbia, "How can you prove you're separated if you and your spouse still live together?," accessed May 22, 2015

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