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Divorce and Canada's overlapping family laws

Marital status and other factors determine whether provincial laws, federal laws or both apply during the legal process of ending a relationship. Any couple in British Columbia can separate but only married couples can divorce. In general, the federal Divorce Act exclusively concerns married individuals, while provincial laws cover separations of married or unmarried couples who've had "marriage-like" relationships.

However, federal and provincial laws are not entirely separate. The Divorce Act establishes nationwide guidelines for spousal support, child custody, post-divorce parenting arrangements and child support. Provincial and territorial laws govern how these issues and property division matters are decided.

If that doesn't seem confusing enough, a spouse under the Family Law Act in British Columbia can refer to a married spouse, a long-term unmarried partner or an ex-spouse. An unmarried "spouse" is a person who has been in a common-law relationship for at least two years or shares a child with a partner.

While trying to figure out which laws apply to you, start by defining the kind of relationship you have: married or unmarried. If you aren't married, determine whether laws consider you a spouse. Separation laws may not be applicable if you and a live-in partner have been together less than two years, have not lived together continuously or have no children in common.

If you're married, are you only interested in separation or are you planning to proceed directly to divorce? The family law attorneys at Peterson, Stark, Scott understand this can be a grey area for some married spouses who are definite about the desire to separate but aren't so certain about divorce. 

The end of any relationship can create significant emotional turmoil and may sometimes cloud judgment. Our attorneys realize the choices you make now may have long-term effects and work to protect your best interests.

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