Surrey British Columbia Family Law Blog

Matrimonial home may cause confusion during property division

Yours, mine and ours. That's what needs to be decided when it comes to property division when a couple is headed for divorce. The matrimonial home is likely the thing around which the biggest and often most contentious decisions are made. Separating property -- including the matrimonial home -- is governed by provincial legislation in British Columbia, whether the couple is married or unmarried, in a heterosexual relationship or a same-sex one.

To qualify as a matrimonial home, a property must be ordinarily occupied at the time of the couple's separation. The problem is, these types of terms leave room for various interpretations. The couple might own a cottage which still could be considered a matrimonial home since it doesn't have to be occupied all the time. More often than not, a family court judge will rule that a recreational property can also fit the bill of a matrimonial home if used within a reasonable time prior to the separation. 

Family law: What is the right of first refusal?

When it comes to child custody situations, some people may not be familiar with the term, right of first refusal. Family law in British Columbia spells out the rules when it comes to issues regarding children. If one parent can't care for a child for a specific time, he or she may choose to use the services of a babysitter, rather than call on the other parent. Right of first refusal means the other parent is seeking the right to choose to care for his or her children instead of entrusting them to the care of a sitter.

In contentious child custody circumstances some parents pit their children against each other. There are times when that can mean one parent keeping a child from the other parent. When a parent allows grandparents to care for a child or lets the child sleep over a friend's house rather than call on the other parent to care for the child, it can escalate into a heated debate.

Property division: What happens to a business?

There are many things on the table when a couple makes the decision to divorce. One of the discussions British Columbia couples in this circumstance must have is regarding property division. But what happens when a business is involved? It doesn't matter if the business is worth billions, millions or thousands of dollars, communication and collaboration are the keys, according to experts.

Canadian family law usually allows for a spouse who doesn't own the business to get what amounts to half the value of the business during the time of the marriage, unless a marriage contract stipulates otherwise. The spouse who owns the business needs to have the business evaluated. But the spouse who has no owner interest may also hire an independent evaluator if he or she doesn't agree with the evaluation.

January most popular time to make the decision to divorce

January is the start of new beginnings, and it could also mean things are coming to an end. Many British Columbia couples -- and those all over the country -- make the decision to divorce come January; so much so, that many lawyers have dubbed it divorce month. Experts say there are reasons the first month of the year being so popular for marriages coming to an end.

Many couples wait until the holidays are over to formally announce they are getting divorced. They don't want to put a glitch into the holiday merrymaking. Studies show that most people launch online queries regarding divorce between Jan. 6 to 12. Another notion is that when a couple is already having problems, the stress of the holiday season can actually motivate them to end their marriage.

Family law: Salmonella from exotic pets could affect children

Studies have shown that it's important for children to have pets. British Columbia family law stipulates that the best interests of children always be at the forefront of any decisions made concerning them, but when unconventional pets can cause children to become sick, is that really keeping in line with that rule? The country's public health agency is asking the owners of exotic pets to practice good hygiene habits since six provinces have seen an outbreak of salmonella due to pet snakes, pet rodents and rodents used for food for other exotic pets.

British Columbia is among those provinces that have seen increased cases of the bacterial infection. Rodents and snakes can be carriers of salmonella even if they look healthy. If children are allowed to handle or interact with these animals, they could also become infected, so the health agency is urging everyone to be meticulous about hand-washing after handling these pets. The same goes for handling frozen rodents used as snake food.

Divorce: Should a payee get more money after payor gets a raise?

One of the most contentious issues when it comes to family law is how much one spouse pays to another after increases in income. When couples divorce, one spouse often has to pay support to the other. But what happens if the payor gets a hefty salary increase at work or additional bonuses that weren't factored into the initial agreement? That is what one separated British Columbia recently had to deal with.

The couple in question was married for 17 years when they decided to part ways with a separation agreement in place. The husband was earning $185,000 a year and paid his estranged wife $1,400 a month in support with a review set in three year's time, but which never happened. He eventually asked the court to stop his support payments he had been making for almost 14 years to the tune of about $220,000. In short, the woman resisted the man's attempts to stop payment and said payment should have been reviewed at the three-year point, suggesting her former spouse owed her even more money since his income had increased substantially over the years.

Property division: The meaning of patrimony

There may be a term bandied about during the divorce process of which some couples may not be aware: patrimony. Essentially, in British Columbia -- as in the rest of the country -- patrimony refers to property division whether a couple is married or living in a common law relationship (or civil union). Family patrimony is comprised of the assets a couple shares that are up for division at separation or divorce and some of these assets fall under this category no matter to whom they originally belonged. 

Some of these assets could include a recreational property like a cottage, an RV or a home in the States; money that increased in a pension plan over the course of the marriage; furniture and any residences used by the family. Just as important to note are the things that aren't included such as income property, money in the bank, jewellery, stocks or bonds, anything received as an inheritance or gift and personal property. Some of these things, however, may have to be shared if a marriage contract is in place.

Family law: Getting on the same page regarding parenting style

It's never easy when divorced parents -- or any parents, for that matter -- have different parenting styles. Raising children can be much less daunting when two people are on the same page on how to do so regarding things like punishment, education, health care, values, religion and the like. Luckily, British Columbia parents are guided by family law when it comes to doing what is in the best interests of their children.

Even when parents are divorced, they need to have conversations about how to co-parent their children and come to a consensus on parenting style at least regarding important things. It's fine if one parent is more happy-go-lucky and the other is more serious, but it's necessary to give kids a cohesive message on important things like the consequences doled out for unacceptable behaviour. Both parents and their children should have a firm grasp on boundaries and family rules.

Family law: What happens when an engagement to marry is broken?

Sometimes things just don't work out in life. That happens with couples as well. When the engagement is broken by a yet-unmarried couple in British Columbia, there is nothing in family law that stipulates what should happen, unless of course, that couple was living in a common law relationship or if a cohabitation agreement is in existence. Otherwise, there is not much each party is entitled to if an engagement ends.

There used to be a breach of promise law on the books in British Columbia, but the province did away with it long ago. But, what about that sparkling -- most likely very expensive -- engagement ring? It depends on whether the court views it as a conditional gift. There have been rulings both ways, so it may depend upon the circumstances and the judge.

Collaborative law a gentler, kinder way than going to court

Things always seem to go more smoothly when people work together for a positive outcome. But, that is not always possible in a divorce situation and that is where collaborative law might help the process for British Columbia couples having some difficulty sorting through some issues. Collaboration keeps couples out of court -- something that is not only beneficial for them, but also for their children who might have a hard time grasping their family's new way of life.

Those confronting divorce proceedings may find it helpful working with a professional to help them sort out the details of their divorces. Each divorce experience is unique and although the issues may be similar - child support and custody, spousal support, the division of assets and debts, etc. - not all situations are the same. Collaborative law may also help couples agree on what is best for their children when coming to agreements.

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