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Divorce Blog

Living Common Law in BC: The New Family Law Act Spells Big Changes

By Karen Stewart

Presently the BC Family Relations Act is in effect and governs relationship breakdown in our province; however, that will change on March 18, 2013, when the new Family Law Act is fully implemented. The Family Relations Act treats couples who are married much differently than those who simply choose to live together without “tying the knot.”

Sections 5 and 6 of the Family Relations Act are fairly clear in addressing how family assets are to be split — at least for married couples. The rule of thumb is that whatever was accrued during the time the married couple were together is to be split equally. Unfortunately, common law couples were left out of the act, forcing them to rely on other means to figure out what they could take with them upon relationship break down. Trust law has been used up until the present although it leaves much to interpretation and much more to the possibility of disagreement and litigation.

Young Couple OutdoorsThe law is changing quite dramatically early next year for common law couples. The new law says that once common-law couples have lived together for two years in a “marriage-like relationship” they will have an automatic half interest in all property accumulated during the relationship, as well as in the increase in the value of all property brought into the relationship. So rather than each taking back what they brought into the relationship, as is the case today, common law couples will have a right to one-half of all family property. As well, common law couples will be responsible for one-half of all the family debts of their partner, including credit card debts, incurred from the time they began living together until the time they separate.

As the countdown continues towards full implantation, should a court case commence prior to the new Family Law Act coming into effect, the present trust law will still apply? But on March 18, 2013, BC will see these, and many more, important changes implemented and applied to future relationship break down.

From a BC Divorce Mediator’s point of view, if those of you in a common law relationship wish to keep property separate, it is a good time to prepare a cohabitation agreement which sets out how property is to be divided in the event that your relationship breaks down. After all, cohabitation is about love, but breaking up is all about money. Protect yourself.