Picture chicken little: “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”. That is the attitude most people are exhibiting in news articles in relation to the new Family Law Act that comes into force in BC today. Richter Trial Lawyers is here to say: The sky is NOT falling!
Yes, common law couples are going to be treated equally to married couples under the act. And yes, you will have obligations you didn’t have yesterday to your common law spouse a “ arguably.
The fact is, as a common law spouse, you already had many of the legal rights and obligations, the only question was to what extent and who had to prove it. As a common law spouse, you were already possibly on the hook for spousal support and potentially child support depending on the situation. The major change under the FLA comes in relation to division of property and who has to show that property should be divided.
Before, (very generally) if a common law spouse wanted to claim an interest in something, they would have to show that they contributed to it either directly or indirectly, resulting in the legal owner becoming unjustly enriched. This doesn’t mean that they have to prove they paid for it, or even worked on it specifically, they just had to show they aided in the spouse’s life so as to indirectly contribute to the property.
Now, if it is owned or owed by either spouse at the end of the relationship (both property owned and debts owing), the presumption is that it was contributed to by both spouses and if one can show it would be significantly unfair to divide it, the court won’t divide it.
With all of this complaining by the common law spouses, many have also overlooked the changes for married partners. For everyone, common law or married, the property owned prior to the relationship will be excluded property and will not be divided on separation. This is true of family debts as well. Those debts owed prior to the separation are also excluded and are not divided.
The difference today vs. before the FLA is that if you are a common law spouse, there is no longer any need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on lawyers battling out what can be claimed from the other spouse under equitable principles like unjust enrichment and what can’t. The legislation was meant to make it clearer for parties to know what they can expect on separation.
If you’re still unsure what rights or obligations you have with respect to the Family Law Act, thegoodfirm family law lawyers will be able to help. Call us at 604-264-5550 for a free claim evaluation.