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Separation agreement guide now includes property division and pensions!

Dividing propertyWe’ve now added a section on property division and pensions to our newest self-help guide.

In July, we told you about our new separation agreement guide, which allows users to build their own personalized separation agreements. The guide has proven quite popular, shooting to second place for page visits in the first month after its launch.

We’re now planning to use the same model to develop a guide for drafting affidavits, as part of our new Supreme Court Self-help Resources Project. Stay tuned for new developments.

If you have feedback to offer on the new guide, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email and let us know what you think!

Need a separation agreement? Help has arrived!

Earlier this month, we launched an entirely new kind of animal: a fill-in-the-blanks/choose your own options 7-part separation agreement guide. The feedback that LSS received through community consultation over the years has revealed a need for material to help people draft their own separation agreements.

How to write your own separation agreement is based on a precedent manual produced by the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC (CLEBC). LSS and CLEBC collaborated on an agreement to allow LSS to rely on CLEBC’s Family Law Agreements: Annotated Precedents as source material.

The new guide is unlike any of our earlier guides, and results in a basic personalized separation agreement, which can be filed at the court registry as a first step toward a divorce.

Separation guide 1Users fill in what looks like an online form (section by section), following instructions that are both technical and provide legal information on what words to include. They choose relevant paragraphs by toggling “include/don’t include” buttons on or off, and fill in the necessary dates and names. Some elements (like names) automatically appear throughout the rest of the section after they’re entered once.

Upon completing each section of the guide, the user clicks an “Open text version” button. This strips out all the instructions and unused paragraphs, collects all the selected/entered content, and moves it to a new window.

From that window, users can copy and paste each section into a Word or other word processing document, and tweak or add further details as/if required (for example, sequential numbers for all paragraphs once the agreement is complete). (Numbered paragraphs are required if the agreement is to be filed at the court registry.)

Separation guide 2In the interests of keeping this simple, the guide doesn’t store the entered information anywhere once the user leaves each Web page. This protects the user’s privacy, but also means they must either complete each section at one sitting or store partially completed sections by clicking the “Open text version” button and saving their work to another file that they can add to later.

Our guide is based on CLE’s Family Law Agreements: Annotated Precedents, which is available by subscription to the general public for $250 for those who need to write a more complex agreement.

Initial test results have been positive. Users found it easy to use and understand.

Currently, the guide contains sections on parenting, child and spousal support, and debts. In late August, we’ll be adding a section on property and pensions.

We welcome your feedback on our latest creation! Send us an email and let us know what you think.

Hot off the press: Our series on the new Family Law Act is now in booklet form!

As soon as the new BC Family Law Act was announced last year, there were questions. What’s new in the act? When does it come into effect? If I’m in the middle of applying for a court order, does it change anything? We were asking these questions, and so were many of you.

That’s why, beginning last February, with JP Boyd’s help, we began running a series of ELAN entries about the new law. After 8 months and 17 different entries, we’ve finally wrapped up the series.

For your convenience, we’ve combined all the entries into a single booklet, the Guide to the New BC Family Law Act. The booklet is now available for download as a pdf and will be available in print from Crown Publications by the end of this month.

In the coming months, we’ll be following up with more information and training on the Family Law Act. Stay tuned!

Property division in limbo: Unmarried couples, property division, and the new Family Law Act

Last November, the Family Law Act (FLA) was announced. The act was introduced to replace the current Family Relations Act, which sets out the family law process in BC. Though it was announced in November, it won’t come into effect until March 2013. This delay has caused some confusion as to which set of laws applies. Most confusing are the rules about common-law couples dividing property after they split up.

The first point to address is that the new act only sets out how to divide property between separating spouses. A spouse is defined in the new act as 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 or had their marriages annulled and unmarried spouses who have separated). This ELAN entry is only about the rules that apply to unmarried spouses.

The important date to remember is March 18, 2011. The Family Law Act sections about division of property say that you have two years from the date of separation to start an application. Since the act goes into force on March 18, 2013, this means that couples who split less than two years before the act takes effect can take advantage of the new rules.

So what happens once the new act takes effect?

If you split before March 18, 2011 but haven’t yet applied to divide property, then you aren’t a spouse under the FLA or the Family Relations Act. You can start a Supreme Court case under the existing rules about unjust enrichment to try and divide property.

If you split on or after March 18, 2011 but haven’t yet applied to divide property, then you will be considered a spouse after March 18, 2013. You can start a case now under the existing rules, but you will have to change it to follow the rules set out in our ELAN entry about dividing property after March 18, 2013.

If you split before March 18, 2011 and have already applied to divide property, then your case will continue under the existing rules.

If you split on or after March 18, 2011 and have already applied to divide property, then you have until March 18, 2013 to resolve your case. (If you own property, it makes sense to solve your case quickly. If you’re applying for a share of property your spouse owns, you might want to wait until the new FLA comes into effect.) Once the FLA comes into effect, you can change your claim to ask for orders about property under the new act.

Changes to Supreme and Provincial Court Family Rules and forms

Two changes were made to the Supreme and Provincial Court Family Rules recently. The Supreme Court Rules were changed to replace the word indigent” with “impoverished” and to rename forms F85 and F86 accordingly.

The Provincial Court (Family) Rules were changed to allow parents to take the Parenting After Separation course online if it is not offered in their communities.

These changes took effect on July 1, 2012.

You can find more details and links to the regulations on our What’s new in family law page.

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.

In the process of a separation or divorce? Mediate BC’s distance mediation service may be able to help

Mediate BC, a not-for-profit society that offers dispute resolution services, has recently launched a distance mediation service for those who are going through a separation or divorce. The service is designed to assist family members who want to resolve differences without going to court, or who find distance or conflict between family members makes it hard to talk in person.

The service provides clients with a specially trained family mediator who can help current or former spouses resolve differences outside of court. Clients can use these private, informal services without having to meet in person or even leave home.

Some of the issues spouses can get help with include:

  • where and with whom any children will live
  • how to share the costs of raising the children
  • how to divide family assets, RRSPs, or pensions
  • what to do with the family home
  • other concerns coming out of separation and divorce.

If you think you would like to use the distance mediation service, or if you need help deciding whether it is the right choice for you, contact one of Mediate BC’s mediation advisors at:

1.855.660.8406 (call no charge in Canada and the US)
604.660.8406 (call locally in Vancouver)
604.660.4177 (fax)
mediation.advisor@mediatebc.com (email)

Find out more about the Distance Family Mediation Services program and learn more about the mediation process on Mediate BC’s website.

Hot off the press from LSS! Living Together or Living Apart

Living Together or Living Apart

Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce

This revised booklet is now available in Arabic, traditional Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese in print and online. Now in its third edition, this popular publication explains the basics of family law in BC, and includes information about living common-law or being married, the process for separation and divorce, how to work out custody, support, and access issues if there are children involved, and how to sort out money matters. It also describes legal options and where to get help. We’ve tweaked the content (minor clarifications) here and there, updated the LSS information, and added new resources.

French translation was provided by the Francophone Affairs Program, Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat. The French translation was supported by the Canada-British Columbia Cooperation Agreement on Official Languages. Translation and production of Arabic, Chinese (traditional), Farsi (Persian), Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese was provided by MOSAIC, with the help of a grant from the Law Foundation of BC.