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What do I need to do to obtain a legal separation in British Columbia?

Once you communicate to your spouse an intention to separate permanently and also take action to demonstrate this intention, you are legally separated.

It sounds simple, but in practice it is often not. Future disputes over the precise date of separation may be avoided by having your spouse sign a simple agreement setting out the date of separation early on in your negotiations about other matters. Have an independent third party witness both of your signatures. However, this is not a guarantee that the precise separation date will be firmly established, and it is a good idea to seek legal advice if it appears your spouse may dispute the separation date in the future.

The date of separation is important for a number of reasons. Under the British Columbia Family Law Act, the separation date is the date when:

  • the date when you get a right to a one-half interest in all of the family property;
  • the date when you take responsibility for one-half of the family debt; and
  • the start of the two year limitation period within which you must start a court action to divide property and debt.

The separation date also has an impact on whether you are your child’s guardian, with the right to make decisions about their care and to have parenting time with them. Parents who have lived with their children are automatically guardians, even after they separate. Automatic guardianship may not apply if you separate before the child is born.

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