How Do I Prepare for Separation?

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

It may seem a bit morbid and ghoulish to "prepare" for your separationIn family law, the decision of one or both parties to terminate a married or unmarried relationship; the act of one person leaving the family home to live somewhere else with the intention of terminating the relationship. There is no such thing as a "legal separation." In general, one separates by simply moving out, however it is possible to be separated but still live under the same roof. See "divorce, grounds of.", but a little bit of planning on your part can help you avoid problems down the road. These tips are intended to help ensure that you know exactly who has what, who owes what, and to whom the debts are owed.

Family propertySomething which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property.", family debts and excluded propertyA term under the ''Family Law Act'' referring to property acquired by a spouse prior to the commencement of the spouses' relationship and certain property acquired by a spouse during the relationship, including gifts, inheritances, court awards and insurance proceedings. A spouse is presumed to be entitled to keep his or her excluded property without having to share it with the other spouse. See "family property," "gift," and "inheritance."

Take a careful, but not too obvious, tally of what each of you owns. This might be difficult if you and your spouseUnder the ''Divorce Act'', either of two people who are married to one another, whether of the same or opposite genders. Under the ''Family Law Act'', married spouses, unmarried parties who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, and, for all purposes of the act other than the division of property or debt, unmarried parties who have lived together for less than two years but have had a child together. See "marriage" and "marriage-like relationship." keep separate bank accounts and maintain your own investments, but make your best efforts. A list of your spouse's RRSPs, stocks, investments, bonds, GICs, cars, motorcycles, boats, ATVs, insurance policies, properties, and bank accounts may prove to be extremely useful.

One less obvious tip is to keep a record of the names of the financial institutions that are sending your spouse mail. You don't even need to open the envelope, just record the name and address. If your family has a safety deposit box, you should go to it and make a list of the contents. Make a list of the more valuable items in the family homeIn family law, the dwelling occupied by a family as their primary residence. See "family property" and "real property.".

Next, you should make your best efforts to find out what property you owned and what debts you were responsible for when you and your spouse began to live together or got married, whichever was earlier. The online statements most banks provide don't go back more than two or three years, so you may have to dig into your paper files or think about ordering old statements from your banks and other financial institutions.

New debts

Once you've decided that you're going to separate, stop involving yourself in shared debts. Don't sign any new credit card or loan applications, and especially don't sign any blank documents!

New property

Keep track of the money and property coming into the household. Make sure you know who bought it, why it was bought and with what money it was bought! If you have recently or are about to receive a personal giftA voluntary transfer of property from one person to another, without expectation of payment or reward. Gifts to one spouse do not usually qualify as family property, and are excluded from the pool of property to be divided. See "donee," "donor," "excluded property," and "family property.", like an inheritanceReal property or personal property received as a result of the provisions of a will or the ''Estate Administration Act''. Inheritances do not usually qualify as family property subject to division between spouses. See "family property," "real property" and "will.", keep it separate from the family finances.

Personal matters

Open a new bank account, in your own name, at a new bank, preferably a different one than your family uses. It's also a good idea for you to arrange for your personal mail to be sent elsewhere, like to a friend or a post-office box. You can file a notice of change of address with the post office and they will automatically redirect your mail for you. Finally, no matter how stressful your home situation is, don't quit work. You will, in all likelihood, need the income in the near future.

Leaving home

One word: don't ― at least not just yet. Your situation may be difficult, perhaps even intolerable, but don't leave the family home until you've seen a lawyerA person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor.", especially if you have children. You might find that living on your own is unmanageable; once you've left the family home it can be very difficult to get back in. Remember that you can be separated from your spouse and still live in the same home.

See a lawyer

Even before you've separated, it's usually a good idea to talk to a lawyer to get an idea of what your rights and duties are. Many lawyers will offer an initial interview at a flat or a lower rate. Use this opportunity to get the lawyer's opinion of your situation and an idea of what your options are.

Saving money for a lawyer

If you're worried about your spouse noticing from your credit card or bank statements that you've seen a lawyer, there's an easy way to save up enough for a small retainerThe act of hiring of lawyer. The money paid by a lawyer to secure his or her services. The terms and extent of a lawyer's services on behalf of a client. fee or the cost of an initial interview with a lawyer. Each time you take out money to buy groceries or clothing, keep a small amount aside, in cash, and save it in a place your spouse won't easily find. If a store lets you take extra cash when you pay with your debit card, take out as much as you can each time you go to that store. Safeway and most provincial liquor stores will let you take extra cash out when you buy things.

It may take a while to save up enough money this way, but at least your spouse will never find out. Make sure you destroy the receipts from your shopping!

For more information

You can find out more about separation in the chapter Separation & Divorce within the section Separation.


Creativecommonssmall.png JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
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