On March 18, 2013, British Columbia’s new Family Law Act came into force, and has redefined common law relationships in our province.
One of the biggest changes British Columbians will face is that any couple who has lived together for two years, or who has had a child together and then “splits up” may be able to claim assets as per a traditional divorce.
The changes to the Act affect both same-sex and opposite couple involved in a relationship, and are intended to resolve a massive courtroom backlog of divorce cases based on the previous law enacted 30+ years ago.
At times, the province’s increasingly quick-ending relationships were taking up as much as 25% of all court time. The new Act is intended to reduce the burden on the courts.
Under the new Act, all property owned by one of the spouses prior to the commencement of the relationship is excluded from the division of property when the couple breaks up. But, the increase in value of this excluded property becomes a family asset, hence is part of the pool which will be divided between the spouses on separation.
Although anyone who was in a common law relationship can apply for spousal support, whether this will be awarded or not (and how much) will always depend on the specific circumstances of each couple.
It is important to know that there is no automatic right to receive support just because of the relationship. In order to prevent these sorts of issues from appearing at the end of a relationship, while it may seem counter-intuitive, couples who decide to cohabit (but not formally tie the knot) may decide to formalize their relationship at the start of cohabitation. Discussing how you want to end things before the 2-year mark may help solve problems if you do decide to end things.
The BC government has created a pdf list of FAQ’s about the new BC Family Law Act (2013).