Separation: Deciding Who Will Move Out (Script 116)
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This script discusses moving out when you separate, including:
- who should move out;
- whether you can lock your spouse out of the home;
- getting a court order to make your spouse move out; and,
- what to do if your spouse harasses you after you have separated.
- 1 Should someone move out?
- 2 Who should move out?
- 3 When should you move out?
- 4 Can you move back in after you’ve moved out?
- 5 Do you risk losing your share of the property if you leave?
- 6 Can you take any of the household belongings?
- 7 What to take with you
- 8 Can you take money from a joint account?
- 9 What about debts?
- 10 What if you want to stay in the house?
- 11 Can you get a court order to make your spouse leave?
- 12 Can you lock your partner out?
- 13 Who should pay the household bills?
- 14 Should you get a separation agreement?
- 15 Summary
Should someone move out?
Some couples stay together after they separate, usually because it’s cheaper to live in one place with one set of household bills than in two places with two sets of bills. This isn’t possible for everyone, particularly if there is a high level of conflict in your relationship after separation, and especially if there is a high level of conflict and you have children.
Who should move out?
If you have children, and you and your partner can talk about this issue, several things will influence your decision about who will stay in the house and who will move out:
- Do the two of you get along well enough to stay in the home together? If you argue, how much are the children exposed to your conflict?
- Where are the children likely to stay after the separation, and who will be mostly responsible for looking after them?
- Where do the children go to school or daycare? Where are their extracurricular activities located?
- Can you afford to get a second home big enough for the children?
- Will either one of you be keeping the home? Can either of you afford to keep the home?
It often makes sense that the person who will be caring for the children or keeping the home should stay in the house, and that the other person should leave.
When should you move out?
There’s no rule that says when you can and can’t move out, or that you must tell your partner ahead of time that you’re moving out. If it’s a very emotional separation or there has been violence between the two of you, you might want to move out when your spouse isn’t home.
Can you move back in after you’ve moved out?
If you are both owners of the home or are both listed on the lease or rental agreement, you can move back in if you want. It’s your place too. However, you should let your partner know about your plans first, and you may want to think twice about moving back in if it’s just going to escalate your conflict.
You may be worried that if you leave, this will affect who gets what. Don’t worry. If you have a right to a share in the property, you won’t lose that right by moving out. However, if you move out of the home while your spouse remains, it might be difficult later to convince the court that you should be allowed to return.
If you are a married or an unmarried spouse, haven’t started a court case yet, and the property is only in your spouse’s name, considering filing a Land (Spouse Protection) Act entry against the home to prevent your spouse from selling the property without notice to you. If a court case has started, married and unmarried spouses can also file a certificate of pending litigation against title of the home under the Land Title Act to protect your interest in the property from creditors.
Can you take any of the household belongings?
Each of you has the right to a reasonable share of the household belongings and to anything that you brought into the relationship. If you’re the one who is moving out and you’re taking the children with you, you’ll need to consider their needs when deciding what to take and what to leave behind. But don’t strip the place bare or take more than a fair share, and don’t take things out of spite. Later on, you can always apply to the court if there are more things that you want from the home and you and your spouse can’t agree on whether you can have them.
What to take with you
If you plan to leave your relationship and you want your children to live with you, you’ll need to take the children with you when you move out. You should also take important documents and information, such as:
- Your marriage certificate, if you’re married
- Financial information, such as your tax returns for at least three years, statements from bank accounts, investment accounts, RRSP accounts and debt accounts, and copies of recent paystub
- Your CareCard and other health and dental insurance cards
- Your SIN card, your driver’s licence, your passport, and any immigration papers you may have
- You children’s birth certificates and passports
- Medications and prescriptions, including optometrists’ prescriptions
- Some but not all of your children’s clothing, furniture and personal belongings
- Copies of your partner’s financial information, such as paystubs, tax returns, company records and ledgers, bank accounts, investment accounts, and RRSP accounts
- A record of your partner’s Social Insurance Number, CareCard number and date of birth
Can you take money from a joint account?
If you have a joint bank account with your partner, you can usually take half the money in the account. Don’t take any more than half, and consider not taking anything if you have an income and your partner doesn’t or if payments for important family expenses like the mortgage come from the account.
What about debts?
If you have any joint credit cards with your partner, consider calling the bank and telling them that you are separating and asking them to cancel your card for the joint account. You don’t want the bank to hold you responsible for new charges on the account if you can avoid it.
If you have a line of credit or an open mortgage with your partner and you’re worried that your partner might withdraw more money, consider calling the bank and asking them to: freeze the line of credit or mortgage; reduce the credit limit to the present balance; convert the account to deposit-only; or, require two signatures to withdraw more money. You should talk to a lawyer before doing anything that might look unfair.
What if you want to stay in the house?
If you have children, it might be in the children’s best interests to stay in the home. In general, the more stability children have, the easier it is for them when their parents separate. But if you want to stay in the house with the kids, your partner refuses to leave and you simply cannot continue to live under the same roof together, you’ll have to get legal advice to find out if you can make your partner move out.
Can you get a court order to make your spouse leave?
The Family Law Act allows the court to make an order giving a spouse “exclusive occupancy” of the family home; this rule applies to property that is owned and property that is rented. To get an order for exclusive occupancy, you must show the judge two things:
- that it’s practically impossible for the two of you to remain together in the same home, and
- that it’s more convenient for you to live there than for your spouse.
Where there has been family violence or there’s a risk of family violence, the court can make a protection order that only one person will be allowed to live in the home. This applies to couples who qualify as spouses and to spouses who do not.
Can you lock your partner out?
Usually each person has as much legal right to be in the home as the other until a court decides otherwise or one of you agrees to move out. Simply not wanting to live with your partner isn’t enough for you to lock your partner out of his or her home. However if you fear that there might be violence, it may be reasonable to lock your partner out until the police can be contacted or a protection order can be obtained. But if the possibility of violence isn’t an issue, there’s a risk that locking out your partner will backfire and allow your partner to complain that he or she has been treated unfairly by you. If possible, obtain the advice of a lawyer before locking out your partner.
Who should pay the household bills?
If you want your partner to move out, or if you’re asking for an order for exclusive occupancy of the home, you should be prepared to pay the household bills, such as the rent or mortgage, utilities, taxes and the like. However, you can apply for an order for support from your partner, if you qualify as spouses, to help you with these bills and the court can also make a conduct order that requires one of you to pay the household bills
Be aware that if you and your partner are spouses or if you are both on title of your home, your partner may be able to ask that the house be sold and the money from the sale kept in trust until your case is resolved.
These issues are complex, and you should speak to a lawyer before deciding what to do.
Should you get a separation agreement?
The best solution when a couple separates is to get an agreement, as long as the couple can get along well enough to negotiate a settlement. A separation agreement puts in writing who will live in the house. It can also sort out other issues, such as if and when the house will be sold, how the children will be cared for, and whether support will be paid. Make sure that you get a lawyer’s advice before you sign a separation agreement, even one negotiated by a mediator, to get proper information about what the agreement means and how it affects your legal rights and obligations.
For more information about separation agreements, refer to:
Your first decision when you separate will be whether you need to live in separate homes, and if so whether you will move out yourself or try to have your partner move out. If you want to stay, but your partner refuses to leave, you’ll have to go to court for an order giving you the sole right to live in the home if you can’t continue to live under the same roof. If you can agree on what will happen after you’ve separated, you can make a separation agreement.
[updated October 2014]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by JP Boyd.
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