Elan Rotating Header Image

common law

Living Together or Living Apart now available as an eBook

Living Together or Living  ApartOur popular, award-winning booklet (received the 2013 Apex Grand Award) Living Together or Living Apart is now available as an eBook! You can download it to any eBook reader, including Kindle, Kobo, or your smart phone, iPad, or tablet. This means you don’t need an Internet connection to access this publication, and you don’t need to make printouts to share information. Cross-references are linked and terms in bold link to the Glossary, making it easy to navigate to information your client needs. For more information about eBooks, check out Lifehack’s Ten Advantages of E-book Readers.

Living Together or Living Apart explains the basics of family law in BC. It includes information about:

  • being married or in a marriage-like relationship (also called a common-law relationship),
  • what separation and divorce mean,
  • how to work out parenting arrangements, and
  • how to sort out money matters.

It also explains your legal options and where to get help, and includes a chapter for Aboriginal families.

 

FLA case law, property division and unmarried couples

When the Family Law Act (FLA) was announced at the end of 2012, many people pointed out a quirk in the law that would effect unmarried couples who split up between March 18, 2011 and March 18, 2013. As a general rule, laws do not affect events from before they came into force. However, the way the FLA was written means that it applied to unmarried couples who split up as far back as March 11, 2011.

Up until now, it has been unclear whether the court system would interpret the act this way. A recent ruling, Meservy v. Field, has confirmed that this is indeed how the law will work.

The old Family Relations Act did not consider unmarried couples to be spouses under any circumstances, and so did not allow them to follow those rules for dividing property. Instead, they would have to start a Supreme Court case under the existing rules about unjust enrichment to try and divide property when they split up.

The FLA considers unmarried couples to be spouses as long as they have been living in a “marriage-like” relationship for at least two years. It also gives couples two years from the date they split up to start an application with the court to divide property. This means that unmarried couples who split up before the FLA came into force (on March 18, 2013) could file for the division of property using the FLA rules as long as they:

  • split up after March 18, 2011, and
  • it hasn’t been more than two years since the split.

The new Family Law Act: Property and debt division options for unmarried spouses

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.