Vancouver family lawyers have been working to understand the British Columbia Family Law Act for the past year and a half, and cases continue to emerge from the Supreme Court which help to define what the law means. One of the biggest changes in the Family Law Act from the previous Family Relations Act was the clarification that property brought into a spousal relationship is excluded, and only the increase in value of that property during the relationship is splittable between the parties as family property. The Family Law Act says that each party is “…has a right to an undivided half interest in all family property…”, but Vancouver family lawyers have, however, been given little guidance as to how strong that even division will be.
In Williams v. Killey, 2014 BCSC 1846, the Supreme Court of British Columbia gave Vancouver Family Lawyers a bit more guidance. In that case, a couple had lived together for three years and during their relationship, the property brought into the relationship – a mix of real property and RRSP’s – increased in value by over $200,000.00. Though this $200,000.00 was clearly family property and subject to an initial even division between the parties, the court took the position, based on case law which had been provided, that, “the contribution of a spouse in a short term relationship [should be] valued at 10-15% of property”. Primarily based on the short duration of the relationship, the Judge apportioned the real property 85% to the Respondent who had brought it into the relationship. Further, on the basis that the Respondent had been the primary contributor towards the increase in the RRSP value during the course of the parties’ relationship, the RRSP’s were awarded to the Respondent in their entirety.
The length of relationship has always been an important factor in property division, but it may come as a surprise to some Vancouver Family Lawyers that the court appears to be using this factor less flexibly under the Family Law Act than it did under the Family Relations Act. Given that the only splittable portion of assets brought into a relationship is that which arose during the relationship itself, it was felt, at least by this Vancouver Family Lawyer, that the operation of the law already limited entitlement by time and that the division of family property did not need to be further handicapped to take the short duration of a relationship into account.
It will be interesting to follow this further, but the takeaway at this point is that no one can rely on receiving 50% of family assets that they did not bring into a short relationship.