Property Rights in Common Law Break-ups in BC - Zukerman Law

Understanding Property Rights During Common-Law Break-Ups in BC

The breakdown of any relationship can be emotionally and financially challenging. For common-law couples in British Columbia, navigating a separation can be particularly complex due to the absence of a formal legal marriage. While the Family Law Act offers some protections regarding property division, it’s crucial that you understand your rights and entitlements. This knowledge will ensure a fair outcome and empower you during this challenging time.
This blog post delves into property rights during common-law break-ups in BC. We’ll explore how the Family Law Act applies to common-law relationships, differentiate between “family property” and separate assets, and discuss factors considered when dividing property during a separation. By equipping yourself with this knowledge, you can approach the separation process more clearly and confidently, protecting your financial interests and securing a more equitable future.

A Fairer Landscape: Property Division for Common-Law Couples in BC

A Fairer Landscape: Property Division for Common-Law Couples in BC

The rules surrounding property division during a common-law separation have significantly changed in British Columbia. Before the Family Law Act’s update in 2013, common-law partners faced an uphill battle to secure a fair division of assets.  

The Family Law Act now recognizes common-law relationships that meet specific criteria: couples who have cohabited in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. The property division rules for these couples are similar to those for married couples. In simpler terms, assets acquired during the relationship are typically divided equally, excluding property brought into the relationship by each partner beforehand.

This shift in legislation offers numerous benefits, most notably a more predictable and fairer outcome for separating common-law couples. You will no longer have to worry about lengthy, expensive legal battles with uncertain results. The new framework provides a clear pathway for resolving property division disputes, ensuring a fair division of assets and a more equitable future for you.

The change in legislation acknowledges the evolving nature of families. With the increasing number of common-law families in BC, the law must reflect the realities of modern relationships. This update aligns with other areas of the law, such as wills and estates, which already similarly recognize common-law families to married couples.

Common assets that couples have upon separation that are considered shared assets include:

  • The family home
  • Other land or property assets
  • Investments
  • Businesses
  • Pensions
  • Bank accounts
  • Insurance policies
  • RRSPs

Not All Property is Divided Equally: Exceptions to the Rule

While the general rule for common-law separations in BC is an equal division of property acquired during the relationship, there are some key exceptions when it comes to the family home.

Here’s where things can get a bit more nuanced:

  • Pre-existing Contributions: If one partner brought significant financial resources to the table before the relationship began, such as a down payment or mortgage contributions from personal savings, inheritance, or gifts, those contributions may be considered “excluded property.” In such cases, the value of those pre-existing contributions would likely be deducted before the remaining value of the home is divided equally.
  • Pre-Owned Property: If one partner owned the family home before the relationship started, the property would generally remain theirs upon separation. However, any home value increase when you live together as a common-law couple would be considered “family property” and subject to equal division. For example, if the home appreciated by $50,000 during your time together, that $50,000 increase would be divided equally, even though the original purchase price belonged solely to one partner.

Understanding these exceptions can ensure a fair and accurate property division outcome.

How Debts are Divided During Common-Law Separation

Unfortunately, separation often involves dealing with shared financial obligations. In British Columbia, debts accumulated during a common-law relationship are generally divided equally. This includes common debts like credit cards, lines of credit, car loans, and most other forms of financial liabilities.
However, there’s room for negotiation. If one partner has a significantly higher debt load than the other, a lawyer can help you negotiate a fairer debt division through a separation agreement. This might involve the less indebted partner taking on some of the other partner’s debt to achieve a more balanced outcome.
Remember, open communication and seeking legal guidance are key to navigating debt division during your separation.

What happens to our property while we wait for a final agreement or a court order?

What happens to our property while we wait for a final agreement or a court order?

While reaching a final agreement or obtaining a court order regarding property division is crucial, the waiting period during a separation can raise questions about how to handle shared assets in the meantime. The good news is that British Columbia’s family law framework offers provisions for managing property during this interim period.
These interim orders, issued before the final property division is settled, can address several key aspects:

  • Living Arrangements: Orders can determine who can occupy the family home (if applicable). At the same time, separation issues are resolved, ensuring a stable living situation during this transitional phase.
  • Funding Dispute Resolution: Interim property division might be authorized to finance activities to resolve the dispute.
  • Protecting Assets: If there’s concern that one partner might take actions jeopardizing a fair property division (like selling or transferring assets), the court can issue orders to safeguard those assets.

It’s important to remember that these interim orders don’t affect ownership rights or the final property division outcome. However, they can significantly foster stability and protect your interests during this temporary period.

Don't Go Through This Alone: Professional Guidance for Separation and Property Division (BC)

Don’t Go Through This Alone: Professional Guidance for Separation and Property Division (BC)

Separation can be emotionally overwhelming and navigating the legalities of property division adds another layer of complexity. Here at Zukerman Law, we understand the intricacies of family law, particularly those surrounding separations and property division.
Our team of highly experienced family law professionals has a proven track record of guiding clients through this challenging process with compassion and clarity. We can provide invaluable assistance with all aspects of property division during your separation in British Columbia, especially in Surrey, White Rock, and Langley.
Don’t hesitate to reach out! Contact Zukerman Law today to schedule a consultation. We support you and ensure you achieve a fair and secure outcome.


Stuart Zukerman

Stuart Zukerman, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, has over 32 years of experience in litigation with a focus on Family Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Dismissal claims, and Collaborative Divorce & Mediation. He has extensive trial experience in divorce, child custody, spousal support, asset division, and ICBC injury claims. As an accredited Family Law Mediator, he helps resolve disputes without court intervention. Stuart has also authored papers on family law and lectured at CLE courses.