British Columbia just involuntarily married 160,000 couples

March 18, 2013
March 18, 2013

Overnight, the Canadian Province of British Columbia altered the relationship status of more than 160,000 couples from “common-law” to “married”—from a legal standpoint anyway. Under the new Family Law Act, reports the National Post, unmarried couples that have been living together for more than two years or that have a child together and then decide to break up can now file for what is essentially a full-blown divorce—one that includes a 50/50 split of debts and assets.

For many Canadian couples, shacking up together is a good way to save money on rent, to get tax exemptions, or to figure out whether the relationship is a viable one. And it’s a popular option: according to the 2011 Statistics Canada census data, the rate of couples entering common-law relationships in British Columbia is growing three times faster than marriages.

But the new Family Law Act, which includes same-sex couples, could put a serious damper on these types of arrangements if one partner is prone to debt or makes a lot more money over the course of the relationship, because anything that is acquired after a couple moves in together is now fair game. For young couples who aren’t all that serious, the law could make moving in together a much dicier decision.

By passing the law, legislators hope to unburden the courts. Before today, common-law couples had to appear before a judge in order to make a claim over part of an ex’s property, and they thus take up an estimated 25% of all court time in BC, according to the National Post. The law is intended to make out-of-court settlements more common.

The justice minister and attorney-general, Shirley Bond, a liberal, said in a statement that the new act “reflects family justice reform in a way that better represents the values of our citizens.” It will be interesting to see if the citizens of British Columbia feel the same way.

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