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Divorce in BC: Everything You Need To Know About Family Law

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Divorce in BC can be a stressful and emotionally challenging process. Whether you’re thinking about divorce or already in the middle of proceedings, you may be facing difficult decisions that will have a significant impact on your future. Issues related to finances, child custody, and relocation can add to the complexity of the situation.

If you’re in British Columbia, it’s important to understand the laws and regulations that govern divorce proceedings. It’s also crucial to have trustworthy, reliable, and accurate information to help you make informed decisions and protect your interests.

In this article, we will provide you with everything you need to know about divorce in BC. We’ll cover the initial steps you need to take, the legal requirements for divorce, and the complex issues that may arise during the process. We’ll also discuss ways to protect yourself, take control of the process, and achieve the best possible outcome.

If you have questions about divorce in BC, Onyx Law Group has the expertise and knowledge to help guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a positive and successful outcome.

Divorce in BC: Family Law Requirements for Divorce

Legal Requirements for Divorce in BC

Divorce is the legal end of a marriage. The divorce process is started by filing specific court forms, paying court fees, and serving documents on your spouse. A court application is needed even if you and your spouse agree that you want to divorce, but the documents and necessary steps are different (contested and uncontested divorces are discussed below).  

The divorce process in BC can be extremely difficult to navigate without help from an experienced lawyer.  Depending on your situation, disputes about parenting, support, property, and debt will need to be resolved. There are also specific requirements that must be met before the Court considers you eligible for divorce. 

Divorce in BC: Eligibility for Divorce in Canada

Eligibility for divorce in BC

Residency Requirement

To be eligible for a divorce in BC, certain conditions must be met. First, there is a residency requirement. You or your spouse must have been living in BC for one year or more and must still be living in BC when bring your divorce application. If that is not true for one or both of you, you are not eligible to apply in BC.

Marriage Breakdown

Second, you must demonstrate that your marriage has broken down. There are three grounds for establishing marriage breakdown: one year of separation, adultery, and mental or physical cruelty. 

Even if your spouse committed adultery or was abusive, it may be easier and quicker to rely on one year of living separate and apart as the grounds for your divorce. This is because adultery and cruelty must be proven by evidence in Court. 

To avoid the necessity and expense of a trial, most divorcing spouses choose to live apart for a year and apply for divorce on that basis. You can start your divorce application any time after you separate, but the Supreme Court will not grant a divorce order until you and your spouse have been separated for at least one year.

Divorce in BC: Custody Arrangements

The third eligibility requirement applies if you have children. The BC Supreme Court will not grant a divorce unless it is satisfied that you have made reasonable arrangements for your children, including child support and a parenting plan. This can be demonstrated by filing your Separation Agreement with the Court. If you are not able to reach a negotiated agreement, a trial will be necessary to get a court order resolving parenting issues before the divorce order is granted.

Which Court can help Resolve your Marriage Dispute?

Which court can help resolve disputes?

In British Columbia, only the Supreme Court can grant a divorce order. The Supreme Court is authorized to handle all family law issues, and it is the only court in BC with jurisdiction to deal with division of property. That means a divorce application in the Supreme Court can ask for a divorce order and for the judge to settle other issues such as property, parenting arrangements, and support.

The BC Provincial Court can’t issue divorce orders and is only authorized to handle certain family law matters (e.g., parenting arrangements, child support, spousal support, and protection orders). The BC Provincial Court can’t deal with division of property. 

However, the Provincial Court process is less complex and expensive than Supreme Court proceedings. For that reason, it may be best to bring a family application in BC Provincial Court to resolve outstanding disputes, and then apply to the BC Supreme Court for a divorce order. A family lawyer who understands the process can help you determine which path is right for your situation.

Does Starting a Divorce Case Mean you have to go to Trial?

No. Many separated spouses start court proceedings because they can’t agree on the issues but end up reaching an agreement before trial. You and your spouse can make an agreement at any time—before or after divorce proceedings are commenced—either by negotiation, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution options. Once all outstanding issues are settled, the BC Supreme Court can grant the divorce order ending the marriage, without the need for a trial.

Process for Divorce in BC

Process for Divorce in BC

Filing for divorce in the BC Supreme Court

Assuming the eligibility requirements discussed above are met, a divorce application is started by filing a Notice of Family Claim (F3) in the BC Supreme Court. You do not need your spouse’s consent to start divorce proceedings. In addition to the Notice of Family Claim, at the initial stage you will need to file other documents, including a completed Registration of Divorce Proceedings form, your original marriage certificate, and your Separation Agreement (if you have one). 

Once you have paid the court filing fees, the court will stamp your documents with a court seal and open a file for your case. The stamped documents must be properly served on your spouse, and then you must wait 30 days to allow your spouse time to file and serve a Response to Family Claim (Form F4). 

If your spouse doesn’t respond to your Notice of Family Claim within 30 days, you can continue with a sole application for an uncontested divorce. If you do receive a response, your divorce is a “contested divorce.” 

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorces 

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorces 

There are two main types of divorce: contested and uncontested

If you and your spouse agree about how to deal with issues such as parenting, support, and division of property and debt, you can apply for an uncontested or undefended divorce (also known as a “desk order divorce”). With this type of divorce, both spouses agree that they want to divorce and have resolved all issues arising from their marriage and its breakdown. The spouses will have drafted and signed a written separation agreement, or they will have obtained a court order resolving issues and then apply for an uncontested divorce.

An uncontested divorce can be filed by one spouse (the claimant) with the other spouse (the respondent) agreeing not to defend it. The respondent can simply do nothing but acknowledge service; once the 30 days have passed after service, the claimant can proceed with a sole application for uncontested divorce by filing the next forms including affidavits and a draft Divorce Order. Another option is for spouses to jointly file a Notice of Joint Family Claim (F1), which does away with the need for service. 

A “contested divorce” is very different. This type of divorce will be necessary if: 

  • You and your spouse can’t agree about whether to divorce;
  • You and your spouse can’t agree on the grounds for divorce (e.g., if you allege that your spouse committed adultery or cruelty, and your spouse denies it); or
  • You both agree you want a divorce but can’t agree on one or more terms of your divorce (e.g., child custody, spousal support, division of assets and debt). 

In a contested or defended divorce, the judge is called on to decide what to do about outstanding issues like parenting, support, property, and debt. As discussed above, spouses make an agreement at any point, thereby avoiding the need for a trial. In other words, a divorce that starts out contested may not end that way. 

How Long does it Take to get a Divorce in BC?

Timelines depend on several factors. Generally speaking, an uncontested divorce is quicker than a contested divorce. An uncontested divorce application typically takes about three to six months from the date of filing to the date the divorce order is issued by the court. 

A contested divorce will take longer and be more costly. Depending on the complexity of issues, it can take six to 18 months, if not longer, to resolve issues pertaining to property, debt, support, and children. 

To begin the divorce process in BC, at least one spouse must have resided in the province for a minimum of one year. The process officially starts when one spouse (the petitioner) files a Notice of Family Claim in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. This document outlines the petitioner’s requests regarding custody, division of property, spousal support, and other relevant matters.

Custody and support are critical issues that need to be addressed in a divorce. In BC, the best interests of the children are the foremost consideration. Parents can reach an agreement on custody and visitation rights through negotiation, mediation, or, if necessary, court intervention.

Child support is determined based on the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which consider the income of the paying parent and the number of children. Spousal support, on the other hand, is evaluated based on factors like the length of the marriage, the roles of each spouse during the marriage, and each spouse’s financial situation post-divorce.

The division of property and assets in BC follows the principles of fairness and equity. Generally, property acquired during the marriage is considered family property and is subject to division. However, there are exceptions, such as gifts, inheritances, and certain types of damages awards, which may be excluded from the division process.

After resolving issues related to custody, support, and property division, and after living apart for at least one year, spouses can proceed to finalize their divorce. This involves submitting a final set of documents to the court, including an affidavit for the divorce and a draft order. Once the judge reviews and approves these documents, a divorce order is issued, and the divorce becomes final after 31 days.

How much does a BC Divorce Cost?

Again, the cost will depend on a number of factors. Uncontested divorces are less expensive than contested divorces. In both situations, court filing fees must be paid and there are expenses related to serving the divorce application on the respondent spouse. A family lawyer can explain these expenses for you at the outset so you can budget. 

It is not necessary to hire a lawyer to help you with your family law matters, but it is highly recommended. Clear, trusted legal advice will ensure your rights are protected. It will also avoid delays if paperwork is rejected by the court registry due to mistakes, saving you time and money in the long run. A family lawyer can assist in so many ways, including helping you negotiate and draft a Separation Agreement; taking your case to BC Provincial Court to allow you to then apply for an uncontested divorce; or preparing your divorce application materials. 

Want to Know more About Divorce in BC?

Separation and divorce can be extremely difficult to navigate on your own. Conflict and uncertainty will arise. Without an experienced family lawyer on your side, you may not be able to protect yourself and your family. Steps can be taken that will make the difference between understanding and controlling the process and feeling overwhelmed by divorce proceedings. 

Whether you are just starting the process or are in the middle of a difficult dispute, Onyx Law Group’s experienced lawyers can help you navigate the divorce process and achieve a fair resolution. Our lawyers have a deep understanding of the legal issues surrounding divorce, including financial disputes, child custody, relocation and more. Contact Onyx Law Group today

Have questions about a topic?

Onyx Law Group represents clients in family law, estate and trust litigation, estate planning and probate matters. Consult with our experienced team at 
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