The government of British Columbia enforces special rules concerning how property should be divided for couples. These rules regarding property division pertain to married couples as well as unmarried couples who had been cohabiting for two years or more in a relationship similar to marriage.
British Columbia puts property in two categories: family property and excluded property. Family property is to be shared equally between the partners unless they had entered into a prior agreement regarding the distribution of their shared assets. This property includes everything that the partners had owned together until the day that they separate. Distribution does not depend on whose name is on the asset. Traditionally, family property encompasses the home the family shared, investments, financial accounts, pensions, business interests, insurance policies, RRSPs and the increase in the value of property that has arisen since the relationship commenced.
Excluded property is not subject to division. It includes property that one of the partners had before the relationship commenced, gifts, inheritances and certain damages. However, some excluded property can sometimes be divided. One situation in which this situation arises is when the couple is interdependent and not dividing the property would prevent one partner from receiving a fair share. Additionally, the court can divide property unequally if it would be “significantly” unfair to divide it in an equal manner.
While these are the general rules, the courts do have discretion to provide for different distributions to each partner. Additionally, the partners can create an agreement before their marriage or relationship or during their marriage or relationship that changes the default rules. Before entering into any legal contract that affects a person’s property rights, an individual may wish to have the agreement looked over by a family lawyer.
Source: Justice BC, “What happens to family property when spouses separate?“, June 17, 2014
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