The new B.C. Family Law Act provides sweeping changes that will affect many of the 15,000 cohabiting couples in the Capital Region and more than 160,000 couples in the province.
“If you have lived in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, the law now considers you a spouse,” said Christine Murray, a partner at Victoria-based Cassels-Murray Family and Estates Law.
For the first time, common-law couples are subject to the same legal rights and responsibilities of married couples.
If a couple separates, any gains in assets or debt incurred during the relationship are now split down the middle, regardless of which partner owns them.
“That property includes real estate, personal property, bank accounts, generally anything with value owned by one or both spouses at the date of separation,” Murray said.
Property acquired before the relationship began, as well as gifts, inheritances and damage awards will still be protected from equal division.
“If it is a couple’s intention to keep their property separate, they’ll have to enter into a written agreement to make sure they can have their intentions carried throughout their relationship,” Murray said.
Some questions, such as whether or not both partners are responsible for the depreciation value of a home, will have to play out in court, she added. It could also be difficult to prove when a relationship began, as Kreisler and her partner illustrate with their roommate-to-romance situation.
“It’s not a clear-cut, black-and-white test,” Murray said.
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