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Dividing Family Property


After a divorce or annulment, you can apply to the court, under the Family Relations Act, to divide up the family's property. If you want to divide the family assets without getting a divorce, you can first apply for a judicial separation order, or a court declaration that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.

The Act currently applies only to heterosexual, married couples. If you are unmarried or homosexual, you may be able to get relief under trust law. Talk with a lawyer about "constructive trusts."

The general rule under the Act is that each spouse is entitled to half the total value of the family assets. There are exceptions to this rule, and parties often fight over what a "family asset" is or isn't.

A family asset is

        a) owned by one or both of the spouses
        b) used by a family member for a family purpose

Examples are the family home, your car, or anything you use around the house. Other family assets might include bank accounts, RRSPs, and term deposits. A "family purpose" includes anything used to benefit family members. If there is any doubt, a court will assume an item is a family asset, unless you can prove it isn't.

Shares in a company may be family assets even if the business does not have any obvious connection to the family. The law recognizes that the spouse who takes care of the family and household duties does contribute to the business, even if it is owned by the other spouse.

Not all assets owned by one of the spouses will be family assets. If you are the sole owner and user of an item, such as jewelry or a motorcycle, it probably won't be divided. A vacation property that's been in your family for generations may be declared non-family assets. Properties owned exclusively by you and used solely for business purposes are not family assets, unless your spouse directly or indirectly helped buy them.

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This page last updated: September 24, 1999
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