When you end your marriage or common-law partnership, dividing your property can be one of the most contentious elements of the split. Property can represent both a financial and emotional investment, and parties typically want to protect those investments.
As such, disputes can arise. However, by understanding how the process works and what you can expect to receive, you can avoid some confusion and contention.
Types of property
In British Columbia, the laws recognize two types of property: family and excluded. Most of the property couples have is family property. This includes any property (or debt) accrued throughout the relationship. For most people, this includes the matrimonial home, any business interests acquired during the marriage and pensions.
However, not all property will be eligible for division. If you or your soon-to-be ex owned property before you got married, it will likely be exempt from division. This is excluded property. It might include pre-marital business ventures, inheritances left to just one person and even personal property, like collectibles.
Understand that increases in the value of excluded property during a marriage can be family property, and therefore, eligible for division.
Further, it is important to note that British Columbia treats common-law couples the same as married couples with regard to property division, but only if they have been in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.
Method of division
While the laws vary by province, British Columbia courts will typically divide family property equally between spouses. Any excluded property will remain with the owner.
There are exceptions, though. If the courts determine that dividing property equally would be significantly unfair, it can order unequal division. Or, if the parties have a valid agreement that reflects an unequal division of family property, the courts may enforce the order.
Preparing for disputes
Even though the process of dividing property may seem straightforward, numerous issues can arise and complicate matters. Parties can disagree on property categorization, for instance. Or they may disagree over the value of specific property. There may also be instances where a party attempts to conceal or undervalue assets.
Because of the complexity of property division and related challenges, it is vital to prepare accordingly. This can involve familiarizing yourself with your family and separate assets and discussing your case in detail with your lawyer.