If you're married and you want a divorce, you need to get a divorce order to end your marriage legally. If you aren't legally divorced, you can't marry someone else.
To start your divorce, you file a Notice of Family Claim (F3) or Notice of Joint Family Claim (F1) in the BC Supreme Court. You can download the court forms you'll need.
You need to file this and other forms to apply for the divorce even if you and your spouse:
- agree about getting divorced, and
- have sorted out all your parenting, support, and property and debt issues.
If you want to get a divorce in BC, you or your spouse must:
- have been living in BC for 12 months before you apply, and
- still be living here when you apply.
If you and your spouse have lived apart for one year, you can get a divorce. If you have children, the court will let you divorce if it thinks you've made "reasonable arrangements for the children." This means that:
- you've made suitable parenting plans to deal with:
- where the children will live, and
- who'll make decisions about them, and
- child support is being paid under the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
You can also get a divorce if you can't live together anymore because:
- you or your spouse has committed adultery (cheated on you) that hasn't been forgiven, or
- your spouse was physically or mentally cruel to you and you haven't forgiven them.
But if you want a divorce for these reasons, you have to prove in court they happened. Most people just wait a year.
If you and your spouse agree about how to deal with your parenting, support, and property and debt issues, you can apply for an uncontested or undefended divorce. This is also called a desk-order divorce.
Most divorces (about 80 percent) are uncontested or undefended divorces. That means the couple agreed about what to do about their parenting, support, and property issues.
Even if it's an uncontested divorce, you still need a court order for the divorce to be legal.
But the judge will let you get divorced without going to court if:
- you've filed the forms with the court properly, and
- you've made reasonable arrangements for child support payments.
A contested divorce (also known as a defended divorce) doesn't mean you and your spouse don't agree about getting divorced. It means you both want to get divorced but can't agree about some issues; for example, parenting, support, or how to divide property and debt.
The court can order a divorce, even if your spouse doesn't want one. But usually a judge won't do that until you've resolved all your issues.
In a contested divorce, the judge decides what to do about parenting, support, and property and debt issues.
- start the court process because they can't agree, but
- end up making an agreement before the trial is held.
You can make an agreement at any time. Sometimes it happens before a trial date is even set and sometimes it happens the day before a trial starts.
You start a contested divorce by filing a Notice of Family Claim (Form F3).
If your spouse files a Response to Family Claim (Form F4), things can get complicated, so it's a good idea to speak to a lawyer.
But even if your spouse files a Response to Family Claim, there's still a chance that the two of you can:
- talk about your parenting, support, and property and debt issues, and
- decide what to do.
If this seems impossible, there are people who can help you agree.
If you can't agree about what to do about all of your issues, a judge will decide at a trial.
You might have to wait a long time to get a trial scheduled. The whole process takes time, costs a lot, and is stressful. If you have children, it'll be very stressful for them as well.
Even if you don't want to talk to your spouse, it's worth looking at all the options for making an agreement without going to court:
- Look at the other information on this website.
- Read the Separation & Divorce page of the JP Boyd on Family Law Wikibook.
If you decide to go to court but there are things you want to sort out right away, you can ask the court to make interim orders while you wait for your trial.
- If you want interim orders about parenting and support, you can go to either Provincial Court or Supreme Court.
- If you want interim orders about property, you can only go to Supreme Court. (See our guide on how to get an interim order in Supreme Court if you and the other person can't agree.)
Getting legal help
You don't need a lawyer to get a divorce, but it's a good idea get some legal advice, especially if you have to agree about issues about parenting, support, or property and debt.
If you don't have a lawyer, the Justice Access Centres can help you get the information you need to prepare your own case for a contested divorce. You can call centres in Nanaimo, Surrey, Vancouver, and Victoria for help by phone only during COVID-19. Or you can use the Vancouver centre's online self-help resources.
If you live in other parts of BC, your nearest BC Courthouse Library might be able to help you research how to do a contested divorce.