Getting a Separation in Ontario

Whether you are married or “living common law”, in Toronto or Vancouver (or anywhere else in Ontario or BC), if you choose to end your relationship, you have chosen to separate.

And that’s all there is to it.

It really is that simple. Just by deciding that you no longer want to be in a permanent relationship with someone else, you have separated.

May people think that they need a “legal separation” in order to make their split from their spouse official.

That’s not true. All you need to do to end your relationship, whether it’s a marriage or just a “marriage like relationship”, is to choose to be separated. That is a “legal” separation in both Ontario and BC.

The Divorce Act (which specifies how married couples separate) talks about spouses living “separate and apart.” Both the Ontario and BC Family Law Acts (which specify how common law spouses separate) just say “separated.”

That is why just deciding that you and your spouse are “separated” means you are separated. In Canada, legal separation is a state of mind, not a document that you sign, or an order a court makes.

Usually it’s easy to tell when you separated from your spouse. Maybe one spouse said something to the other, or sent an email or left an angry note telling the other the relationship is over. Or maybe one of you moved out of the home you shared.

Other times, it’s a little more ambiguous — at least from the outside — when two people actually separated.

Some people even “separate” from their spouses but still keep living in the same house. Sometimes they move into a different bedroom, or a different suite in the same house, because they don’t want to leave their children, they can’t afford separate accommodations, or just because they don’t think it’s fair that their spouse gets the house and they have to leave. If they think their relationship with their spouse is over and they have no chance of reconciling, though, they are still separated.

Some people don’t even move into a different bedroom (although that’s just asking for trouble). Some rare couples decide that their relationship is over and still share a bed and maybe even still have sex.

Again, that doesn’t matter. If at least one of them has decided the relationship is over and they have no chance of reconciling, they are still separated.

As you can imagine, in some of those latter situations, the exact date of separation becomes a bit hazy. This can be very important in some cases, because things like entitlement to support and the values of property that must be divided can hinge on the date of separation.

It’s always a good idea to keep notes of who said and did what, and when. This could help later if one spouse disputes what the date of separation was.

Remember: there is no “legal separation” document in Ontario or BC. Be safe, and keep your own record.