The Foundations of Family Law

Family Law is a unique area of law that assists couples during the beginning, middle and end of their relationships. While some assume that the purpose of family lawyers is to assist with legal conflicts once a relationship has dissolved, family lawyers serve a large variety of other purposes ranging from the protection of the wealth of each party, negotiating post-separation support and child custody arrangements, and connecting couples with other legal resources for matters that go outside of the bounds of what’s strictly considered family law.

Divorce

Divorce is often synonymous with family law, but the actual dissolution of the marriage typically occurs once the parties have resolved all of the corollary matters. Canada’s Divorce Act is the overarching legislation which sets out the grounds for a divorce order and explains the process to obtain a divorce order.  The grounds for divorce are adultery, physical or mental cruelty, and living separate and apart for one year.

When a couple separates, in addition to obtaining a divorce order, they typically have other issues to resolve relating to the care of children, support, and division of family property and debt. While the Divorce Act does address the matters of children and support, the issue of division of family property and debt is governed in BC through the Family Law Act.  

In BC, family law issues relating to the care of children and support can either be dealt with in BC Provincial Court or BC Supreme Court. The issue of division of family property and debt can only be dealt with in BC Supreme Court.

Why? Family lawyers advise their clients on basic processes like filing for divorce, whether to proceed with their matter in BC Provincial Court or BC Supreme Court, and when and how to initiate court proceedings. Family law lawyers can also assist you to determine the best way to mitigate or avoid the potentially crippling financial impact and adverse effects on children a family law litigation can have. This is typically done by avoiding the courts and proceeding with an alternative dispute resolution such as mediation with the help of a certified family mediator.

Importantly, while the legal system justifiably appears cold, complex and impartial to most, divorce lawyers can provide a more intimate level of support and understanding by providing extended resources, a strong network of other professional guides, and a respect of cultural or religious customs and traditions that divorcing couples wish to follow.

Marriage Agreements and Cohabitation Agreements

Marriage agreements (the correct legal term for the more commonly used “prenup”) are simultaneously one of the most important, but most delicate, topics in family law.

A marriage agreement is an agreement made between two people prior to their marriage which outlines each person’s legal rights and responsibilities. A cohabitation agreement is an agreement made between two people who intend to reside together in a common-law relationship. Both agreements address the financial issues that spouses may face during a separation, such as managing property, debts, and whether spousal support will be paid after the breakup. Ultimately, a well-drafted marriage or cohabitation agreement will protect your interests in the event of a separation.

Separation Agreements

Separations agreements are an attempt to take a practical approach to the division of assets. Often, the former partners engage in conflict over what considered excluded and what is not.

Common Law Relationships

“Are we common law?” is a question that’s been asked by nearly anyone who’s lived with a partner long-term. To understand whether or not you and your partner are considered common law, a variety of factors need to be considered.

Annulment

Annulment, or the nullity of marriage, is a well-known method of ending a marriage early that, in actuality, is only legally enforceable in rare circumstances. Nonetheless, legal counsel will be required to nullify a marriage.

Parenting During and After Separation or Divorce

More often than not, parents’ primary concern in separation and divorce is the safety and security of their children. Considering how long the separation and divorce process may take, it’s a challenge for parents to maintain a sense of stability and safety for their children.

Common parenting questions include whether or not parents can move away with their children, how shared parenting is decided, the specifics of child custody, contact orders, and the role and rights of grandparents or other close family members. Learn about the how the law affects parenting during and after a relationship breakdown here.

Spousal Support

One of the challenges of separation is dealing with the finances for both parties going forward. Spousal support provides help to a spouse to become financially self-sufficient, helps rehabilitate their ability to financially provide for themselves, and prevents a spouse from financial hardship due to the separation. You can learn more about British Columbia’s Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines and how spousal support is determined here.

Child Support

Adequate support for a child means ensuring that the child is cared for, is educated, is healthy, and other relevant needs are achieved.

Child support is the right of the child and parents receive child support on behalf of the child. The amount of child support payable will depend on the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

In British Columbia, child support is calculated using the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the paying party’s guideline income, and child support is almost always awarded to one spouse from another. It can be tricky determining a party’s guideline income especially if they are self-employed or incorporated.

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