Every year in BC, thousands of married and common-law couples stop living together. This is called separation. When married people separate, their marriage isn’t legally ended yet. They still have to get a divorce to legally end their marriage. But before that, they need to make important decisions, especially if there are children.
They have to decide:
- Who will the children live with?
- What arrangements will be made so the child can see the other parent?
- How will they support the children?
- Who will stay in the home or apartment?
- How will they divide the things they own?
Parents who separate often make a separation agreement that says who their children are going to live with and how they are going to divide their property. For example, if they own a house, will they keep it, and if so, who will keep it? How will things like the furniture, cars, TV, computer, and pictures be divided? How will they divide their money and any debts they may have?
A separation agreement is not the same as a divorce, but it is a contract, which means that both parents sign it and then they have to do what they agreed to do. Sometimes a separating couple (married or common-law) each goes to a different lawyer and the lawyers help them write a separation agreement. A separation agreement says in writing what the couple agreed to do so they don’t argue later.
A couple can also get help from a family justice counsellor. The family justice counsellor can help them to write a separation agreement if they both agree about what is in the agreement. Family justice counsellors can help a couple make an agreement about the children and about support money, but not about property.
Child support agreements
Parents also have to decide how much money one parent has to give the other to help pay for the things their children need. This is called child support.
If parents can't agree on how much child support should be paid, they have a couple of options. They can go to a mediator, and use mediation to reach an agreement. A mediator is specially trained to act as a neutral third person who can help people resolve their conflicts. Or parents might have to go to court and have a judge make the decisions for them.