On November 24, 2011, BC’s new Family Law Act was introduced. This act will have wide-reaching effects on family law in the province. This entry describes how the new act will affect current common-law couples who separate before the act comes into effect. For more information, see the act itself and our introduction to the act.
New laws aren’t usually retroactive (don’t usually take effect from a date in the past) unless they specifically say so. This principle is important as some parts of the new Family Law Act will affect common-law couples who separate before the act comes into force.
Under the new Family Law Act, spouses may share property and debts. A spouse is someone who is married to another person, or who has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, and includes former spouses (married spouses who have divorced and unmarried spouses who have separated). Under the new act, unmarried spouses will have the same property rights as married spouses. Under the current Family Relations Act, unmarried spouses don’t have property rights.
There’s a time limit, however, to make a claim. Separated, unmarried spouses can make a claim for property and debt division as long as they apply within two years of the date they separated.
In summary, when the new Family Law Act comes into effect, unmarried spouses, even those who have separated in the two years before the law comes into effect, can file a claim for property and debt division.
Our thanks to JP Boyd for providing the background for this series. You can find more information on the new Family Law Act, as well as other family law issues, at his BC Family Law Resource Blog.