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Family law distinctions between separation and divorce

Most Canadians understand the basics of divorce. However, some British Columbia residents may not be aware of the legal distinctions between a divorce and a separation, as dictated by family law. For individuals who are separated but not divorced, these distinctions can make a huge difference in how future issues are handled. 

The most important thing to understand about a separation agreement is that, if it has been signed by both parties and has been executed by independent legal advisors, that agreement is considered legally binding. In Canada, divorce can be granted one year after a separation provided there are no grounds, but some individuals prefer to remain separated but not divorced. This decision can have several effects on future negotiations. 

If, for example, a long-term separated couple chooses to get divorced, the divorce can be granted relatively easily. However, in some cases, the specifics of the separation agreement may need to be revisited before the divorce is finalized. This is often the case if a material change has occurred that influences the original terms of the agreement. 

Ultimately no two divorces are the same, which is why family law is such a wide field of practice. British Columbia residents considering ending their marriages would benefit from understanding how the law treats separations and divorces differently, to best determine which arrangement would work for their unique situation. Seeking out the support of an experienced divorce attorney for each spouse is a good place to start to gain a better understanding of each individual's rights and responsibilities during the divorce or separation process. 

Source:, "Would getting a divorce after separating mean my ex gets more money?", Debbie Hartzman, March 10, 2017

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