To help protect your interest in family assets upon relationship breakdown, you first have to know what the assets are and where they are located. Second, you should consider what assets may be divided under theFamily Relations Act (referred to as the “FRA“).
1) Know what and where the assets are
Make a list of the RRSPs, stocks, investments, bonds, GICs, cars, insurance policies, properties, and bank accounts you and your spouse have at the time of separation.
Keep a record of the names of the financial institutions which are sending your spouse mail; you don’t need to open the envelope and in fact you should not open mail addressed to your spouse, just record the name and address of the institution.
Know what you have in your family’s safety deposit box and the more valuable items in the family home.
Be aware – If your spouse owns a controlling interest in any companies, you should also be aware of the names of those companies and any assets held by the companies.
New Debts – no new joint debts should be incurred after separation.
New Assets– try not to acquire any, but if you do: 1) know who bought it; 2) why it was bought; and 3) with what money it was bought.
Gifts – Keep any new gifts / inheritances separate from the family finances.
New Bank Account – open a new bank account, in your own name, at a new bank, preferably a different one than your family uses.
Mail – arrange for your personal mail to be sent elsewhere, like to a friend or a post-office box; you can file a notice of change of address with the Post Office and they will automatically redirect your mail for you.
2) What assets can be divided
A divisible asset is any asset ordinarily used for a family purpose, known as a “family asset”.
If you are married and have been for approximately 6 years, these assets are presumptively divided 50/50 between you and your spouse. Some examples of these assets include: bank accounts, RRSPs, investments and property.
Note: B.C. courts cannot directly deal with real estate located in another jurisdiction (i.e. a beach house in Mexico). There are other ways to deal with the beach house in Mexico, such as using other assets to off-set the value of the beach house.
Assets that are excluded from division under the FRA are business assets that are owned by one spouse that the other spouse has not directly (through money or labour) or indirectly (through house work and child rearing) contributed to the acquisition or operation of the business.
Assets that are not business assets and have not been ordinarily used for a family purpose (excluding RRSPs) may also fall into the “other asset” categorically, which can be excluded from division.