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Judge gavel in the front with a carton box house shaped in the back

What is family property, and what is not family property? How is property divided when a relationship ends? The basic and initial starting point in BC is that all family property is shared equally when spouses separate. It seems straightforward but currently the division of family property is one of the most contentious aspects of BC family law. It can be difficult for spouses to know which assets are family property that must be shared and which assets do not qualify as family property.


What is family property?

First, let’s talk about family property in British Columbia. BC’s Family Law Act sets out the definitions and rules for property division. Here is what the Family Law Act says about family property:

  • Family property is any property that is owned by at least one spouse on the date of separation. It does not matter if the property is in only one spouse’s name or the name of both spouses. 

  • The Family Law Act’s property division rules apply to married spouses and to common-law spouses. Common-law spouses are those people who are unmarried and have been living together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. 

  • Family property can include:

  • the family home;

  • other real property (e.g., vacant land, cottages, vacation properties, commercial real estate);

  • personal property (cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, household items such as furniture, etc.);

  • bank accounts;

  • investment accounts;

  • RRSPs/TFSAs;

  • pension plans, including Canada Pension Plan credits;

  • insurance policies;

  • shares or an interest in a limited company; 

  • Family property may include property that one spouse disposed of during the relationship. An example of this is property that a spouse places into a trust for their own benefit or where one spouse transfers title to property to a third person such as their parent or sibling. 

  • Family property can also include property bought after the date of separation if the purchase was funded using family property. For example:, if after separation, one spouse takes money from a joint account to buy a vehicle. The vehicle is family property.

  • The Family Law Act sets out the rules for property division in BC. Spouses can opt out of the legislation by signing their own in a cohabitation agreement or marriage agreement that sets out how property is to be divided during the relationship and if their relationship ends. Usually parties that opt out of the Family Law Act agree to keep their own assets and debts during their relationship and upon separation. 

Even with the Family Law Act’s detailed definitions, there are many grey areas and difficulties in determining what is “family property” that is subject to equal division. If your relationship is ending, consider getting legal advice in advance so you know how to protect property and assets during the separation process.


Do you need advice on dividing family property in BC? 

Whether you are thinking about separating or have already separated from your spouse, property issues need to be resolved. Keep in mind that the rules in the Family Law Act are the starting point. You and your spouse can agree to something different by negotiating a Separation Agreement, a Cohabitation Agreement or a Marriage Agreement. No matter what family law questions you have or issues you might be facing, you will receive trusted advice at the office of Valerie M. Little. For more information about Valerie’s family law office or to schedule a consultation with Valerie, please call the law office of Valerie M. Little today or click the Contact Us button here. Valerie will be eager to assist you in resolving your family law problem.


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