Divorce: Four Myths Debunked

August 12, 2017

Knowledge is power. When it comes to separation and divorce, the more you know about the process and what to expect, the better equipped you’ll be to handle this significant life transition.

With that in mind, this post debunks four common myths we’ve heard from our clients when it comes to family law.

1.       How Separation Happens

Myth: You must follow a formal process to become legally separated.

In fact, there is no legal process associated with separating from your spouse:  the date of separation is simply the date that your relationship ended. 

Sometimes, there are disputes about the precise separation date, which can become important for issues such as determining what property is available for division between spouses.  For this reason, it is often a good idea to put something in writing regarding the date you say that you and your spouse separated.  If you are not comfortable writing directly to your spouse, you might send a letter or email to a close friend or relative about the date you separated.

Divorce, on the other hand, is the formal, legal process of dissolving your marriage, which must be done through the court system.  Usually, the divorce itself is essentially a formality, sought once you have resolved all the outstanding issues between you and your spouse, such as property division and the care of your children.

2.       Ending Common-Law Relationships

Myth:  There is such thing as “common-law divorce”.

Clients in a common-law relationship – one in which the spouses are not legally married – are often confused about how to formally dissolve their union.  In fact, common-law divorce does not exist in British Columbia. The law considers such relationships to have ended when the spouses separate. 

If you are not sure whether you have separated from your common-law spouse, speak to a family lawyer as soon as possible. There is a time limit for starting a family law court proceeding that starts to run on the date you separate.

3.       Divorce = The End of the Legal Process

Myth:  The granting of a divorce order puts an end to the legal process. 

The fact that you and your ex are divorced does not necessarily mean that you won’t be back in court.  Common family law issues that can lead to litigation post-divorce include:

Some of these issues can remain or come back before the courts long after a divorce is granted.  So, if you have a legal question arising from a previous relationship, it’s wise to consult a lawyer no matter how long ago that relationship ended.

4.       Location, Location, Location

Myth:  Where you live doesn’t affect whether you can seek a divorce.

Some clients are surprised to learn that, under the federal Divorce Act, a couple can only ask for a divorce in a province in which one or both of them have been living for one year.  This means that if you and your ex both move away post-separation from the province you lived in together, you may not be able to seek a divorce right away, even if you otherwise meet the legal criteria for one.  Instead, you will have to wait until one or both of you have been living in your new provinces for a year.