Moving in together, “Common-Law Relationships” and Unmarried Spouses in BC

Are we or aren’t we?

0_censusThis past year, your household would have received some form of the 2016 Census, which included a question that could stump a few people: Are you married? Do you have a common-law partner?

The Statistics Canada website defines Common-Law Partner as “persons who are members of an opposite-sex or same-sex couple living common law. A couple living common law is one in which the members are not legally married to each other but live together as a couple in the same dwelling.”

“Common-law partner” is the term used federally (Canada-wide) to mean a marriage-like relationship that has lasted for two years, just one year or even less, depending on what law applies.

In BC, our provincial family laws use the term “spouse” or “unmarried spouse” to refer to an unmarried couple who has lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years, or less than that if they have had a child together. There is no such thing as a “common-law spouse” or “common-law marriage” in BC. However, there are still certain consequences of being an “unmarried spouse”. See Unmarried Spouses.

What should I know about before moving in with my partner?

keys-525732_1280In BC, If you have lived together in a “marriage-type relationship” for two years (with some variability), these are some important consequences to know about:

  • the debts either of you incurred while you were living together are considered “family debt”, which means that when you break up, the responsibility for this debt may be divided equally between you. Read more about this at: How to divide property and debts, Property & Debt in Family Matters;
  • if you buy property together during your relationship, regardless of who paid the downpayment, you could equally share it and equally share the increase in value of property you had before the relationship, which can even apply to the increase in value of “excluded property” like gifts and inheritances;
  • the courts will treat you like a married couple when determining spousal support. See Spousal Support;
  • you may be considered spouses for the purpose of social assistance and other benefits* (which may negatively or positively affect your eligibility). See Thinking of moving in together?;
  • it may affect your partner’s right to “contest” your will. See What Happens When Your Spouse Dies.

I’m already living with my partner. Is there anything I could do?

I want legal advice and/or more information on my situation. Where can I get it?

If you are low income and have questions on family law matters, the Family LawLine can provide more information and help.

To find legal advice and other help on family law issues, see Helpmap results for “family law” and “legal advice” here. It includes services like the CBABC’s Lawyer Referral Service, which connects you with a lawyer who will offer an initial 30-minute consultation for a nominal fee of $25 plus taxes.

This post didn’t cover everything. Read more about this topic:

For example, we weren’t able to discuss situations where an unmarried couple have had a child together. That would have made this post very long indeed! Read the resources linked throughout this post for more information. Another great resource to consult is: Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce

Past posts on Family Law from the Clicklaw Blog:


STAY INFORMED:

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Access to Justice BC

a2j_logoAccess to Justice BC is British Columbia’s response to a national call for action to make family and civil justice more accessible. It is a forum to facilitate open communication and collaborative working relationships among justice system stakeholders.

The following entry is a cross-post from the Access to Justice BC website

By Mr. Justice Robert J. Bauman
The Honourable Chief Justice of British Columbia
Chair of Access to Justice BC


Welcome to the Access to Justice BC website. It is my sincere pleasure to launch what I anticipate will become a series of updates communicating the activities and progress of Access to Justice BC. I look forward to reaching people across our province who are interested in and concerned about the extent to which the civil justice system is accessible in BC. I want to provide information about what Access to Justice BC is doing about the problem, and to invite you to tell us how well we are doing.

In this posting, I will describe a bit about Access to Justice BC and explain what encouraged me get involved with the initiative.

Access to Justice BC started when a few of the province’s justice leaders and thinkers took to heart the recommendation of the National Action Committee to create a provincial forum dedicated to improving access to justice. The small group of people grew larger and came to involve the major legal institutions in the province, and eventually representatives from organizations outside of the justice system as well. The rationale for this broad membership is to foster an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, hopefully leading to better ideas and a greater willingness to experiment (and to take risks).

Access to Justice BC got off the ground in 2015 with a handful of meetings addressing the processes that the group will follow and deciding on a first target for action within the civil justice system: family law. Running parallel to the full Access to Justice BC meetings have been a multitude of smaller sub-committee meetings, working on strategy, communications and planning issues.

The most recent full meeting of Access to Justice BC, which I will describe in more detail in a separate posting, took place in February of this year and put to the test the creative thinking and commitment of the group. A number of concrete initiatives were identified for exploration, and I will be reporting on these initiatives as they progress.

What drew me to join Access to Justice BC? Like many people involved in the civil justice system, I am sorely aware of its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong; I’m also proudly aware of its strengths and successes. But when I see litigants struggling to navigate complex court processes on their own, or when I consider the unknown number of people in BC who, thwarted by the potential cost, don’t pursue their legal rights, I have to ask myself: is the justice system there for everyone who needs it? If not, what are we doing wrong? Are there minor fixes to address some problems, or is a complex overhaul required? Conversely, what aspects of the system (or of another system for that matter) are working well? Is there a way to transpose those successes to certain areas of civil justice or to scale them upwards?

Access to Justice BC does not pretend to have the answers to these questions. The access problem isn’t something that can be solved by a group of people thinking hard in a room. It is a complex problem that may require multiple innovative solutions and, in order to reach those solutions, some degree of trial and error. It will also take hard work and, yes, in some cases resources.

I hope that you will visit our website and follow our progress over the next year.

– Bob Bauman, Chief Justice of British Columbia


Stay informed with Access to Justice BC:

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2016 Bi-monthly Update Series: March-April

In our 2015 year-end update, we promised to provide bimonthly updates to new resources and services added to Clicklaw in those two months. Here is a selection from the hundreds of changes in March and April:

Jan-Feb | Mar-Apr | May-Jun | Jul-Aug | Sep-Oct | Nov-Dec


Battered Women’s Support Services
by Battered Women’s Support Services

See BWSS’ expanded legal advocacy program which includes full representation (family and immigration matters), and other help on family law issues: workshops, a family law clinic and a court forms preparation clinic.

 

Islamophobia Hotline
by SABA BC, Access Pro Bono, National Council of Canadian Muslims, BCPIAC, FACL BC, CLAS, BCCLA, CABL, CBA BC

Free confidential legal advice if you feel that you have been discriminated, harassed, or faced violence because you are Muslim or were perceived to be Muslim: 604-343-3828

 

Resources on police record checks
by Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Want to know what a police record is? How to try to deal with a non-conviction record? What privacy and human rights laws apply, or best practices for employers? Check out this resource from the CCLA.

 

LSLAP Manuals
by LSLAP Law Students’ Legal Advice Program

See the latest links for LSLAP’s updated legal advice manuals.

 

Coping with Separation Handbook
by Legal Services Society

For spouses (married or living in a marriage-like relationship) dealing with the emotional aspects of separating. Describes ways to cope and how to help your children cope. Includes support services for spouses, parents, and children, and where to find legal help.

 

The Social Security Tribunal
by Disability Alliance BC and CLAS

In 2013, the process to appeal the denial of Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D) changed when a new system, the Social Security Tribunal (SST), replaced the Review Tribunal. This guide will help people and advocates who are appealing denial of CPP-D to the SST. The guide has been updated in 2016.

 

Atira Legal Services
by Atira Women’s Resources Society

See updated information for Atira’s Legal Advocacy Program for Women in the DTES, Atira’s Weekly Summary Legal Advice Clinic, and Atira Women’s Court Form Preparation Clinic.

 

The McKenzie Friend: Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion
by NSLRP

As a self-represented litigant, you may bring someone to sit with you at the front of a courtroom when you are appearing before a judge or master. You must ask the judge for permission for this person – often a friend or family member – to sit beside you and help you through the process.

 

Executor Guide for BC
by Heritage Law

This publicly available wikibook will help you understand the steps involved in being an executor and probating a will.

 

Leaving Abuse
by Legal Services Society

This graphic novel tells the story of Maya, who is leaving her abusive partner but doesn’t know where to get help. Through illustrations and clear basic legal information, Leaving Abuse shows how she finds the support and legal aid she and her children need to stay safe and start a new life.

 

TRU Community Legal Clinic (CLC)
by Thompson Rivers University (TRU)

The Community Legal Clinic (CLC) is the first student-staffed pro bono legal clinic in the Interior of British Columbia. The students and the supervising lawyer are a passionate team providing legal assistance and advice to those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance.

 

Preparing for B.C.’s New Societies Act: A Guide to the Transition Process
by BC Registry Services

The new Societies Act will come into effect on Nov. 28, 2016. In the two years following that date, every preexisting society will be required to “transition” to the new Act. This document sets out some basic information about the transition process and other matters that societies may wish to consider over the coming months.

 

Debt collection & debt repayment agents
by Consumer Protection BC

Consumer Protection BC is the licensing and regulatory body for the debt collection and repayment industry (which includes debt collectors, collection agencies, bailiffs and debt repayment agents). They provide information on your rights & obligations around debt collection practices. Includes links on how to dispute a debt, request communication in writing only, or notify a collection agency you are not the debtor.

Includes updated information on debt collection practices. See also blog post on Debt Repayment Agents: New Rules are in place and New things to know about BC’s debt collection laws


Notice – BC Government URLs

You may have noticed that some of the links to websites hosted by the BC Government may be broken as they restructure. We are currently working with BC Gov website staff to keep links updated. For example, see the updated link to Family Justice in BC.

Stay informed:

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Take the first step: Wills and Personal Planning

End of life.

It’s one of those topics that we usually like to dance around or pointedly avoid until a problem is staring us in the face.

I’ve narrowed it down three possible culprits:

  • we may think learning about estate planning and personal planning is too difficult and complicated;
  • we may think it costs too much money; and/or
  • in the context of personal planning, we may easily conceive of accidents happening to us as we explore new and unknown places, but not in our own home, workplace or community.

Here are some ways to take the first step:

MakeAWillPoster2016
Make a Will Week encourages the public to write their will or bring an existing will up-to-date.

There’s no better time than now to start learning about the importance of having these legal documents in place. Think of it like travel insurance–nobody especially likes planning for it, but don’t you want to make sure you’re covered in a crisis?

At the Wills and Personal Planning Resources page on the Courthouse Libraries BC website, you have one page with information guides, forms, free or nominal-fee services, tools, and events—for everyone to use. Did you know about CBA BC’s Dial-a-Lawyer Day coming up on April 16th?

The PDFs are printable and shareable.

What’s Personal Planning? Isn’t a will enough?

If you don’t know about Representation Agreements, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives, you’ll want to read more about these important legal planning documents here.

PLS_Nidus_April14
Law Day is April 14, across Canada.

Along with the other Law Week presentations, bookmark Nidus’ topical presentation (free, in-person) at People’s Law School on April 14th, which will cover the key legal documents, as well as:

Check out everything mentioned above here.

All Law Week/Make-a-Will Week Events:

Stay Informed:

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2016 Bi-monthly Update Series: January-February

In our 2015 year-end update, we promised to provide bimonthly updates to new resources and services added to Clicklaw in those two months. Here is a selection from the 150+ changes in January and February:

Jan-Feb | Mar-Apr | May-Jun | Jul-Aug | Sep-Oct | Nov-Dec


 

New Societies Act: Impact on Pre-existing Societies
by BC Registry Services

The Societies Act is new legislation that will come into effect on November 28, 2016. It governs how societies (not-for-profit corporations) are created and run in B.C. Read about the new Act’s impact on pre-existing societies. We’ll keep you updated via our related Common Question and will post here about upcoming training opportunities for you — subscribe to our blog on the left column if you haven’t already!

 

Legal Support Services Program
by Family Services of Greater Victoria (formerly BC Families in Transition)

This advocacy program assists unrepresented people in Family or Supreme Court in Greater Victoria and provides family law information to low-income people, on: separation and divorce, child and spousal support guidelines, family property and debt.

 

Court Form Preparation Clinics at the Vancouver JAC and at Atira
by Law Courts Center and Atira

Get help with BC Supreme Court, BC Court of Appeal, BC Human Rights Tribunal court forms. These clinics are run by volunteer paralegals with the supervision of duty counsel (a lawyer). The clinic can help with: Supreme Court of BC civil court pleadings, civil court forms relating to employment, foreclosures and residential tenancy matters, Supreme Court of BC family court forms, Court of Appeal family law pleadings and organizing appeal books, and BC Human Rights Tribunal forms.

 

Being an Executor
by People’s Law School

This publication is for people who have been appointed as executor in a will. It covers the steps involved in British Columbia in dealing with an estate after a person dies, including the procedure to probate the will. Updated to reflect the Wills, Estates & Succession Act, which became law in 2014.

 

Protection Orders – Questions and Answers
by BC Ministry of Justice

You may be more familiar with the term “restraining orders”. In BC, the proper term is “protection orders”, which can be either peace bonds or family law protection orders under the Family Law Act. Read more about what a protection order is, when you should get one, how it will protect you, and who you can speak with to get more information about how to apply for one.

 

NCCABC Native Courtworkers
by Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of British Columbia

The purpose of the Native Courtworker program is to help aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system obtain fair, just, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment. The program can provide the aboriginal accused with appropriate referral to legal, social, education, employment, medical and other resources, liaise between the accused and criminal justice personnel, and much more. The HelpMap service listing has been updated with new location and contact information and is managed directly by NCCABC.

 

Termination under the BC Employment Standards Act
by CBA BC Branch

If your job ends or terminates – whether you quit or you are fired or laid off – you want to be aware of your rights under the law. This script describes your rights under the Employment Standards Act, which sets out some minimum protections for workers in BC.

 

CLAS Services: BC Human Rights Clinic, Community Law Program, Mental Health Law Program
by Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS)

CLAS programs have been clarified:

  • Human Rights Clinic: exploring settlement, and representation before the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
  • Mental Health Law program: legal advice and representation to people who have been involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act or require representation at a Mental Health Review Board hearing.
  • Community Law Program: 
    • Worker’s Rights – appeals or reviews of SST decision about EI benefits, reconsideration or court review of lost WCAT appeal decision, reconsideration or court review of lost EST appeal decision.
    • Human Rights – information about filing a federal human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal or the Canadian Transportation Agency, court review of decision from the BC Human Rights Tribunal, Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, or the Canadian Transportation Agency.
    • Income Security – court review of lost Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal decision, appeal or reviews of SST decision about government pension benefits (CPP, CPP disability, OAS).
    • Housing Security – court review of lost RTB hearing, advice on Order of Possession, advice on co-op evictions, tenant or low-income homeowners facing foreclosure.
    • Mental Health – court review of a Mental Health Review Panel decision under MHA, court review of decision from the Review Board under the Criminal Code, or challenge of certificate of incapability making the PGT statutory property guardian.

Contact CLAS at 604.685.3425 or 1.888.685.6222 more more info. Have your papers ready. Note that CLAS services are for low-income clients; they will refer you to other services if they cannot represent you.


Notice – BC Government URLs

You may have noticed that some of the links to websites hosted by the BC Government may be broken as they restructure. We are working on fixing that and will keep you updated.

Stay informed:

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How Do I Get Married In British Columbia?

Photo courtesy of Freepik.com

In British Columbia, opposite and same-sex couples who are 19 years or older (with some exceptions) and are currently unmarried can marry. Although it is not difficult to get married in BC, there are a number of crucial steps that must be taken before, during and after the ceremony. Here is a quick checklist:

CheckboxApply for a marriage licence

You and your partner need a licence to get married in BC. To apply, one of you has to go in person with primary identification for both individuals (e.g. birth certificate, citizenship card) to a Vital Statistics Agency office. The license is ~$100 and is valid for three months.

CheckboxGet married in a religious or civil ceremony

You can choose either a religious or civil ceremony. The person performing the ceremony must be licensed under the B.C. Marriage Act

  • Not all religious officials are licensed. They must register with Vital Statistics.
  • For civil ceremonies, this person is known as a marriage commissioner. The base fee for a marriage commissioner is $78.75 and they may charge additional fees.
  • The marriage ceremony must be held in the presence of at least two witnesses, in addition to the marriage commissioner or religious official.

CheckboxWhere you cannot get married and who cannot marry you

“The City of Vancouver does not provide marriage licences or perform marriage ceremonies any longer”, says Brad, an information rep from City Hall who referred us to the BC Vital Statistics Agency. Nor can you get married inside a courtroom. Similarly, marriages are not performed by judges or judicial justices. As stated above, either a marriage commissioner or religious official conducts the ceremony.

CheckboxRegister the marriage

The marriage commissioner or religious official who conducts the ceremony will help you complete a Marriage Registration Form. This form must be sent, within 48 hours of the ceremony, to the Vital Statistics Agency for registration.

CheckboxFor more information

Details regarding how to get married in BC can be found at: JP Boyd on Family Law, CBA BC’s Dial-A-Law Scripts and BC’s Vital Statistics Agency.

Stay informed:

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CBABC’s Dial-A-Law Scripts come to Clicklaw Wikibooks

Clicklaw, Courthouse Libraries BC (CLBC) and LawMatters are very pleased to let the public and legal information community know that the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch’s long-serving Dial-A-Law scripts are now on Clicklaw Wikibooks. They join a growing library of content from other key producers of 500px-Dial-A-Law_cover_imagepublic legal information, including People’s Law School, TRAC, BC CEAS and others including some authors CLBC helped to publish, such as Cliff Thorstenson and John-Paul Boyd. The collection of scripts will be printed in a 500+ page book to be shipped to public libraries in BC, at no cost to the libraries, in conjunction with the LawMatters program.

CLBC and CBABC announced this news by formal press release yesterday (April 14, 2015). It’s exciting since Dial-A-Law scripts are perhaps the longest-surviving example of the BC legal profession’s dedication to helping the public with free legal information. The scripts cover over 130 legal topics, and have existed in various formats for over 30 years. Dial-A-Law started in 1983 with help from the BC Law Foundation and its scripts have been edited by volunteer lawyers ever since. More information about the various ways you can access Dial-A-Law is on Clicklaw’s page for the service.

Yesterday’s announcement is significant because now the scripts are even more accessible. Clicklaw Wikibooks are all about keeping legal information in a single spot so that editors and lawyers can update it—this is one of the benefits of a Wikipedia-style platform—but letting the end user choose whether to print, read online, or otherwise export the content in a way that meets their needs. Users can download whole contents, or only portions, of Clicklaw Wikibook in PDF or EPUB. They can order a printed book for cost, or read it online.  Continue reading

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