You've probably heard the term "legal separation," but there's no such thing in BC.

If you're married or in a common-law relationship, the law says you've separated:

  • as soon as you and your spouse start living apart, and
  • at least one of you wants to end your relationship.

If you want to separate from your spouse and live without them, you don't need to:

  • ask your spouse's permission,
  • see a lawyer,
  • sign any documents, or
  • go to court.

After you've separated:

  • you might still live in the same house as your spouse to save money, but
  • you'll usually be treated as separated if you don't share things like meals, a bedroom, and social activities.
See Proving you're separated if you and your spouse still live together for more information on staying in the same house after you've separated.

Do you have to get a divorce?

If you're legally married, the law says you'll stay married until you get a court order for a divorce. You don't need to ask your spouse first if you want to apply for a divorce.

If you weren't married, you don't need a divorce.

There are certain time limits if you want to:

  • apply for spousal support, or
  • divide property, debt, or a pension.

See Spousal support and Dividing property and debts after you separate for more about this.

The Separation & Divorce page of the JP Boyd on Family Law Wikibook has a lot of helpful information about separation and divorce. It also explains some of the legal terms used in separation and divorce.

What to take with you if you leave

If you've decided to leave your spouse, it can help to take certain documents and belongings with you when you go.

Try to work through and check off as many things as you can on our list of important things to take with you if you leave your spouse.

Separation agreements

Many couples who separate can agree about how they're going to deal with certain things without going to court. For example:

  • parenting,
  • dividing up property, and
  • paying child and spousal support

It might seem impossible right now, but if you and your spouse can make an agreement, you'll:

  • save yourselves time, money, and stress, and
  • keep control of important decisions that affect your family.

This type of agreement is called a separation agreement, or just an agreement. Agreements about parenting are sometimes called parenting plans. But the provincial Family Law Act only talks about "agreements." It doesn't give them different names.

A written agreement that's been signed by both spouses is legally binding (meaning you have to do what it says).

For more information on agreements, see:

If you're ready to start writing an agreement, see our step-by-step guide Write your own separation agreement.

Updated on 13 September 2019