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 lawyer or a judge, and there's no such thing as a "legal separation" in British Columbia.

A couple are separated once one or both spouses decides that the relationship is over, announces that decision to the other spouse, 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 mortgage 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 support and dividing property and debt, 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.


This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Vanessa Van Sickle, June 26, 2017.



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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