How Do I Separate from My Spouse?

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

Separation isn't rocket science, whether you're married or not. You don't need any court papers or a written agreement to end the relationship, you don't need to see a lawyerA person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor." or a judgeA person appointed by the federal or provincial governments to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, and are subject to appeal., and there's no such thing as a "legal 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."" in British Columbia.

A couple are separated once one or both spouses decides that the relationship is over, announces that decision to the other 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.", and ends the marriage-like aspects of their relationship, such as sleeping together, eating together, doing household chores for each other, and so forth.

You and your spouse do not have to both agree that the relationship is over to separate. That's a decision that only one of you needs to make to end the relationship.

Living together after separation

Most spouses separate when one spouse moves out. Moving out can sometimes be a problem, since living together is so cost-effective. When you're living under the same roof, there's only one mortgageThe conditional transfer of the title to real property by an owner to another person in return for money given as a loan, while retaining possession of the property. The party to whom title is given, the "mortgagee," usually a bank, is allowed to register the title of the property in his or her name if the person taking the loan, the "mortgagor," fails to make the required payments. See "encumbrance" and "real property." or rent bill to pay, one hydro bill, one grocery bill and one phone bill. When someone moves out, the same pool of income has to cover two rent bills, two hydro bills, two grocery bills and two phone bills.

Because living in different homes can be so expensive, a lot of people decide to separate but remain living under the same roof. From the court's point of view, a married couple can be separated but still live together as long as:

  • you're not sleeping together,
  • you're not having sex with each other,
  • you each do your own chores (cooking your own meals, doing your own laundry and so forth),
  • you've closed any joint bank accounts, and
  • you've stopped going to social functions together as a couple.

Proof of separation

Generally speaking, the court doesn't conduct an inquiry or look in any depth into whether or not someone says they separated when they say they separated.

However, proving the date of separation can be very important in terms of an entitlement to spousal supportMoney paid by one spouse to another spouse either as a contribution toward the spouse's living expenses or to compensate the spouse for the economic consequences of decisions made by the spouses during their relationship. and dividing propertySomething which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property." and debtA sum of money or an obligation owed by one person to another. A "debtor" is a person responsible for paying a debt; a "creditor" is the person to whom the debt is owed., and this can sometimes be a challenge. If this is going to be a problem, then the only sure way of proving when separation happened is the date that one spouse moves out. It's hard to argue about that. As an alternative, you might try writing a letter or sending an email announcing the separation to your spouse. Be sure to keep a copy.

Preparing for separation

See How Do I Prepare for Separation? for more information, including some helpful tips and tricks that could save you some grief down the road.

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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