The B.C. Family Law Act: Marrying Couples Without Consent

Traditionally, the only widely accepted option for couples who wanted to cohabitate was marriage and all the legal, cultural and social obligations and expectations that went along with it. Times are changing though, and, while I took the marriage vows and signed the marriage license, many of my peers have chosen to do otherwise.

Their reasons are diverse and manifold. There’s a general cynicism about marriage among… well… everyone, as Canada’s divorce rate of roughly 40% isn’t exactly reassuring. There’s also less stigma nowadays for couples who choose to live together without matrimony, and breaking up is simply easier when you don’t have to deal with a signed government contract as well as a love grown cold. For couples who split amicably, the lack of marital bonds can prevent a world of hassle.

Today, more than ever, you get to choose the type of union that best suits you and your spouse/partner/significant other. Our country allows for all kinds of legal provisions and privileges for all kinds of partner relationships. All you have to worry about is whether or not you want to enter into any of them. At least, that’s the way it is in most Canadian provinces.

In B.C., however, something has changed. Since last Monday, couples who have lived together for two years or more are now subject to the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, whether they like it or not. If you’ve been living in B.C. with your partner for more than two years, let me be the first to congratulate you on your in the eyes of the law marriage.

The new stipulations under B.C.’s Family Law Act treat common law couples the same as married couples for purposes of property division if they split up.

Couples who have been living together for two years share the same legal rights as married couples, including a 50/50 split of shared debts and assets, excluding pre-relationship property, inheritances and gifts. In the past, people who had been living together for decades were not entitled to share in assets accrued during the relationship.

Despite how it seems, British Columbia didn’t change the law just to mess with its residents. The Family Law Act replaces a 34-year-old piece of legislation in an attempt to address the needs of the modern family in all its manifestations. The new law is by no means a sneaky way of forcing marriage on unwilling participants.

But it is a bit cheeky, isn’t it? The government granting marital status to people who never wanted to be married? Even to those who think the institution is overrated, unnecessary and old-fashioned? It makes you wonder why the protection of marriage brigade aren’t stomping their feet and demanding a repeal.

Anyhow, given that the B.C. government has demonstrated their willingness to change legislation to reflect the realities of modern life, here are a few other updates they might want to consider implementing the next time some aspect of family law requires a little refreshing:

1. If you babysit a child on New Year’s Eve, you will be granted parental rights over that child.

2. Referring to or thinking of your pet as your “baby” is sufficient for you to claim it as a dependent on your provincial tax return.

3. The rules that apply to common-law partnerships also apply to long-term roommates. Two years and you’re married.

4. If a British Columbia resident wins Big Brother, he or she is considered to be the legal guardian of the runner-up.

5. If your dog and cat sometimes curl up together, they’re married.

6. Any houseplant you have managed to keep alive for longer than two years will legally be considered your child. Mistreatment of any such houseplant will result in its immediate removal from your home.

Just a few ideas.

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Mikael Bingham is the Deputy Editor of Ballast.