British Columbia just involuntarily married 160,000 couples

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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