If you've separated, or you’re thinking about separating from your spouse, you might have questions about:
- how to support yourself and your children,
- what might happen to your home or any property you share with your spouse,
- who's responsible for debts, and
- how to protect your finances.
You might be able to get some financial help from your spouse or the government. Use this page to check you’re getting all the financial help you’re entitled to.
Help from your spouse
Child or spousal support
This is money the court might order your spouse to pay you to help support your child and you if you separate or divorce.
To find out more about support, see Child & spousal support.
Help from the government
Income assistance (welfare)
You might be able to get money and other benefits from the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (the Ministry). Apply online or call 1-866-866-0800.
If you need money right away for food, housing, or medical needs, tell the Ministry you want to apply for hardship assistance. This is emergency money you can get quickly. Find out if you qualify by using the My Self Serve tool or call 1-866-866-0800.
You can only get hardship assistance for a short time and in certain circumstances. Usually you can get it for a month at a time. If you stay separated from your spouse and you still have no money after your hardship assistance runs out, apply for regular income assistance as soon as you can.
You can learn more on this BC government Apply for assistance web page and from the UBC Law Students’ Legal Advice Program manual chapter on income assistance.
If you have a disability, you might qualify for disability assistance. The government divides claims for disability assistance into:
You have to meet certain criteria to qualify for these benefits, and you have to fill out an application form that applies to your situation. A health professional also has to fill out a part of your application form.
The online PWD Application Form and PPMB Application Form are on the Ministry’s website.
The application forms include:
- information about what you have to do to qualify for the designation
- instructions to fill out the form
- the ministry address and fax number to submit the completed form
Disability Alliance BC has online help sheets that explain various benefits and programs for people with disabilities. See the PWD Application help sheet and the PPMB Benefit help sheet for help to fill out the application forms.
For more information about the PWD or PPMB designation, phone the ministry at 1-866-866-0800.
- Community Living BC (CLBC)
- Ministry of Children and Family Development At Home Program
- BC PharmaCare Plan P — Palliative Care Benefits
- Canada Pension Plan — Disability Benefits
Child tax benefits
Child tax benefits are money the federal and provincial governments pay every month to eligible families to help them raise their children. You might be able to get:
- the BC family benefit,
- the Canada child benefit, or
- both of them.
They’re both tax-free monthly payments for eligible families (families who qualify) with children under the age of 18.
If you aren't getting these benefits, see the Canada Revenue Agency’s website or call 1-800-387-1193 to find out if you qualify for them.
If you're already getting income assistance but not child tax benefits, ask the Ministry for a top-up (extra money) while you wait for your child tax benefits to start.
If you get a lump-sum payment for the federal benefits, any BC family benefit you get will be taken off your income assistance payment for that month.
Other government benefits
You might be able to get Employment Insurance benefits or pension benefits. See also the Canada Dental Benefit, and the Canada-BC Housing Benefit for rental assistance.
Help if you've been abused
Crime Victim Assistance Program benefits
This is money the BC government can pay to victims of crime to help them recover from injury and financial loss. You can apply for this if you've been physically abused or harassed. It covers things like lost wages, medical expenses, damaged clothing or eyeglasses, changing locks, and counselling.
Your partner doesn't have to be charged with a crime for you to get the benefits, but there must be a police report.
To apply, call the Crime Victim Assistance Program:
- 604-660-3888 (Greater Vancouver)
- 1-866-660-3888 (elsewhere in BC)
Or see the Crime Victim Assistance Program page of the BC government website.
If you've been abused, you can sue your spouse in civil court. A judge might order your abusive spouse to pay you money for your pain, suffering, injuries, or loss of wages you've experienced because of the abuse. If you want to go to court, talk to a lawyer right away. There are time limits on this.
Dealing with property and debts after you separate
BC family law says you're a spouse if you're married or you've lived in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years (you might call it a common-law relationship). As a spouse:
- you have a right to an equal share of family property, and
- you're equally responsible for any family debts you or your spouse has.
How is family property divided?
Family property is everything owned by one or both spouses at the time you separate. This usually includes the family home, cars, furniture, bank accounts, businesses, and pensions.
Courts will order family property to be shared unequally only if it would be "significantly unfair" to divide it equally.
If you lived with someone for less than two years, you usually share the property you own together. You might have to prove you have a right to it if your name isn't on the property and there isn't a written agreement saying that you and the other person agreed to split it. You would have to show that you paid part of the expenses or contributed by looking after the property. For example, you looked after your children and your home so the other person could earn money to get the property. This is called the law of constructive trust.
Property laws are complicated. And there are important time limits. If you have questions about dividing family property and can't agree about living in the family home after separation, talk to a lawyer as soon as you can.
Who's responsible for debts?
Both you and your spouse are equally responsible for family debts. Family debts are any debts either of you took on during your relationship, no matter whose name is on the debt. They also include debts either of you took on to take care of family property after you separated.
The court will only order debts to be shared unequally if it would be "significantly unfair" to divide them equally.
The people you and your spouse owe money to are called creditors. Creditors can only get payment from the spouse who took on the debt. If you and your spouse have joint debts, the creditor might try to get payment from only one of you or both of you.
How can you protect your finances after you separate?
If you've separated, there are a few things you can do to protect your finances:
- Let all your creditors know you've separated.
- Cancel any secondary credit cards.
- Talk to your bank about any joint accounts.
- Reduce limits on overdrafts and credit lines to what you owe now.
- If you need credit, ask the bank to open a line of credit in your name only.
- Change the beneficiary of your investments, RRSPs, insurance, and will if your spouse is the beneficiary.
- Talk to a lawyer to get legal advice.
For more information, see Protecting your finances after you separate.
Who can help?
Sorting out money and property after you separate can be complicated. See Tips about getting legal help for where to get legal help.