Under the province’s Family Law Act, which comes into force on March 18, breakups between any couple that has shared the same roof for more than two years — or has had a child together — will now carry many of the trappings of divorce, including a 50/50 division of assets and debts.
“For young couples who live together for a couple of years and then live with somebody else for a couple of years, it’s going to be interesting to see if they’re going to start making claims,” said Georgialee Lang, a Vancouver family lawyer and arbitrator.
Nevertheless, the new act also comes with dramatic new provisions shielding pre-marriage assets from spousal claim in the event of a breakup.
“It cuts both ways; it’s good for common-law spouses to receive the status of a married partner, but if they’ve married wealthier people, they lose on the other end because the assets their partner brought into the relationship don’t count,” said Ms. Lang.
Lawyers across the province are already advising new lovers, both same-sex and opposite-sex, to ink prenuptial agreements or, at the very least, celebrate their second anniversary with a detailed “airing of finances.”
Have a full and frank discussion about your finances and your willingness to share or not share
“Have a full and frank discussion about your finances and your willingness to share or not share,” Alison Sawyer author of the legal guide If You Love Me, Put It In Writing, said in a recent press release. “That’s not what people want to hear, but lawyers never tell people what they want to hear.”
And when splits occur, instead of simply divvying up their record collections, B.C. couples may now want to seal it with a signature.
Couples should “finalize the relationship … with a separation agreement given that a common law spouse will have at least two years after separation to make a claim for division of property,” wrote Vancouver family lawyer Christine Eilers in an email to the Post.
In the province’s more freewheeling corners, residents are calling the new law the end of an era.
“The innocence is gone,” wrote former Whistler, B.C. councillor Nick Davies writing in a February column for the Whistler Question.
No more would the laid-back ski village see the carefree days of lovers changing partners “as frequently as the wind changed on Alta Lake” or “children of sometimes-uncertain parentage [running] around barefoot in home-sewn floral print dresses.”
Getty ImagesBetween 2006 and 2011, the rate of common-law relationships climbed 13.9% in Canada, while marriages increased by only 3.1%, according to Statistics Canada.
Drafted to replace the province’s 32-year-old Family Relations Act, the Family Law Act was conceived primarily as a way to streamline the backlog of family cases clogging the B.C. court system.
At times, the province’s increasingly quick-ending relationships were taking up as much as 25% of all court time.
The new act encourages divorces to be settled out-of-court and also eliminates much of the legal mess that accompanied the breakup of a common law couple.
Previously, if a ex-common law spouse wanted to make a claim against one of their ex-partner’s assets — say, a house — they had to appear before a judge and make their case for a share of the property based on what they had poured into it via money, labour or childcare.
Between 2006 and 2011, the rate of common-law relationships climbed 13.9% in Canada, while marriages increased by only 3.1%, according to Statistics Canada.
“The idea [with the Family Law Act] was to capture the idea that more and more people are living together in unmarried relationships [and] are developing financial ties and dependencies,” Vancouver family lawyer J.P. Boyd told Postmedia last month.
More and more people are living together in unmarried relationships
“[It’s] a real tip of the hat … to the changing demographics of our time,”
In Quebec, meanwhile, where nearly a third of all couples live in common-law relationships — the highest in Canada — the Supreme Court ruled in January that common-law wives and husbands do not have the same rights as their married equivalent.
B.C.’s new act also beefs up domestic violence protections, including criminal penalties for breaching a protection order.
It also repeals a rarely-used B.C. law that allowed parents to sue their adult children for support.
In February, the B.C. Supreme Court witnessed the law’s last gasp; a 74-year-old woman who abandoned her five children while they were still in their teens and then returned years later demanding a $4,000-a-month payout. Her claim was denied.
Edited by DonLever, 18 March 2013 - 09:57 AM.