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Deciding to separate from your spouse or file for divorce is tough – both mentally and emotionally. With the end of a relationship comes a period of grief where you mourn one season of your life, while also looking forward to what lies ahead.

On top of navigating what can feel like emotions that are in constant conflict with one another, there are legal complexities to navigate.

Our British Columbia separation and divorce lawyers at Align Family Law understand how hard it can be when your family is changing, and we are committed to helping clients minimize the financial and emotional toll that separation and divorce can have on you and your family.

In this blog, our team of family law lawyers explains whether you have to be separated for a year before getting a divorce in British Columbia to help keep you educated and informed on all that goes into the divorce process.

What is Considered Separation in British Columbia?

In British Columbia, couples are typically considered spouses if they have married, or if they have been living in a ‘marriage-like’ relationship for a period of two years.

After becoming spouses, whether by marriage or living together for two years, if one spouse decides that they no longer want to be in the relationship, and they either tell their other spouse they are ending the relationship, or do something that would indicate they are not wanting to be in the relationship anymore – like moving out of the house – then those spouses are now considered separated. Separation does not require both spouses to agree that they have separated, but instead just one spouse communicating to the other that the relationship is over.

Once spouses have separated, there may be rights and obligations that trigger for both spouses concerning splitting assets and paying or receiving support. Those are important, and sometimes complex issues, that go beyond the scope of this blog post.

For a couple that are considered spouses, but did not marry, nothing further needs to happen to end that relationship once they’ve separated. There are important steps that should be taken, like dividing property and updating wills, but no other formal steps must be taken to dissolve the relationship.

For a couple that have married and separated, they will still continue being legally married until a court grants a divorce.

Filing for Divorce in British Columbia

Getting a divorce in British Columbia ends a marriage. A separated married couple does not need to get a divorce, but there are some consequences in remaining married to a person you have separated with. One of those consequences is that you cannot marry again until a divorce has been given.

To get a divorce in British Columbia, it will need to be granted through British Columbia’s Supreme Court. Not to be confused with the Supreme Court of Canada, the British Columbia Supreme Court is not our highest court. There is a courthouse in, or close to, most major municipalities in British Columbia.

To obtain a divorce from the court, there needs to have been a ‘breakdown of the marriage’. Typically, a breakdown of the marriage arises when a married couple has been separated for a year; for most British Columbians, this waiting period of a year will be necessary before a divorce will be given.

There are, however, exceptions. A breakdown of the marriage can also occur before the one-year period if adultery or ‘cruelty’ has taken place during the marriage – cruelty being a bit of a dated term meaning mental or physical abuse. If the person seeking a divorce has a spouse that had treated them with cruelty, or committed adultery before they separated, they can bypass the one-year waiting period to expedite the granting of a divorce.

However, trying to bypass the one year waiting period by making claims of cruelty or adultery turns a divorce into a very complex issue. The court has also noted that it does not want people making a claim for a divorce on the basis of adultery or cruelty except in extraordinary circumstances. If you are considering seeking a divorce on the grounds of cruelty or adultery to skip the one year waiting period,, you should talk to a lawyer first.

Note that a breakdown of the marriage is not the only requirement to get a divorce. If you have children, the court will ensure they are being adequately cared for, which typically includes child support being paid, before giving a divorce. And either you, or your spouse, must have been living in British Columbia for at least a year to go through the British Columbian courts.

A question we often get asked is “Do I need a lawyer to get divorced in Canada?” and the simple answer is no.

Like separation agreements, seeking legal counsel isn’t necessary if you’re navigating separation or divorce, but it may not be advisable to try to figure it out on your own. A trusted separation and divorce lawyer can make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities related to either separation or divorce and ensure that the best outcome for you and your family is being achieved.

Some law firms in British Columbia, like Align Family Law, offer personalized services to Canadians filing for divorce.

For example, our firm offers a wide range of service packages so you can decide how much or little you want us involved. Our options include:

  • Full representation through to resolution
  • Various flat fee services
  • Divorce-only packages
  • Independent legal advice

Whether you need full representation through resolution, would just like us to help with one specific part of your case, or simply need some legal advice, we are here to support you and your family during a separation or divorce and will help guide you through every step of the process.

Contact our Separation and Divorce Lawyers in Victoria, Kimberley, and Vancouver, British Columbia

Align Family Law values a solutions-focused approach to family law issues like separation and divorce and has helped families get started on finding their paths forward after separation or divorce.

We believe that you and your story matter, and we’d love an opportunity to meet and work with you to come up with a plan to resolve your issue as amicably as possible. Contact us today online to book a consultation.

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