Pre-Divorce/Preventative To Do’s

Preliminary

  • If you are in a situation where abuse or violence is present, even if it is not physical abuse, call VictimLink at 1-800-563-0808 to speak with an advocate or support person about your options, and they can connect you with shelters and other safe temporary housing, and get you support for the next steps. If this situation applies to you, you may want to consider consulting with a lawyer to request a protection order or peace bond.
  • You may need extra support during this time, and it is important to figure out who might be able to assist you if you leave, for practical assistance and emotional support. Friends or family members, your family doctor, or organizations where you feel safe will be important for you to help you through the difficult times.
  • Keep a journal documenting the steps you’ve taken and any relevant information regarding the separation and the children, if any. It may prove useful later on as evidence when you need to recall specific incidents during the marriage. You can also journal the emotional stress, which is helpful for some people as an outlet.
  • If you have not yet told your spouse you are considering a divorce, you may consider opening a P.O. box or alternate email address for your contact information relating to the professionals you consult pertaining to your divorce.
  • If your telephone number is a land line that the rest of the family has access to, ensure that you advise your lawyer, financial professional or counselor not to call it or leave messages for you there.
  • Call each of your banks, investment companies and brokerage firms where you have accounts and ask what actions, if any, you can take to protect your interests during divorce.
  • If there are joint accounts active, pay off bills and debts that you can.
  • Ensure you have a reliable vehicle for transportation or other means of travel, that you have enough clothing to get through work or job interviews, and that you stock your pantry, in case any of the accounts are frozen during the separation process.
  • You may want to put some money aside for legal fees and costs and a cushion just in case. If you have money in the bank, you’re in a stronger position to demand what you deserve and not just settle because you can’t afford to fight.
  • Take care of any medical needs before the separation, as there may be a lapse or freeze of medical benefits.
  • Consider marriage counseling before making the decision to divorce, as there may be options to preserve the marriage that might arise from seeing the marriage from a different perspective. If amicable, you may be able to switch from marriage counseling to divorce counseling to make the transition easier.  Remaining civil during the separation and divorce will save both parties time, money and extra aggravation.
  • Understand that if a divorce is imminent, anything you do may become evidence against you. Assume that anything you put in writing, or through email or social media can become a potential exhibit in your divorce. Do not make your private life public on Facebook or Twitter or even through text message. Any bad behaviour may be magnified through the divorce, and is not looked upon kindly, especially if there are children.
  • Consider changing your passwords for various online accounts, including email, banking, social media, unlocking your phone and computer, etc., as your partner may know some or all of these passwords. Also consider using an incognito browser when using the internet, or erasing your browsing history.
  • Do not cut off parenting time to the other parent. It is scientifically proven that children benefit more from both parents’ involvement, and you do not want to restrict access, unless it is for safety reasons.
  • Get enough exercise, be kind to yourself and surround yourself with good people. Try to take the time to relax and escape the stress by going for walks, to the movies, focus on your health and goals.

Get the help you need

  • It is important to remember that you are not likely an expert in this area, which is why you should seek the assistance of someone who knows the ins and outs, rather than just relying on your own judgment. Furthermore, though there is a wealth of information available on the internet, proceed with caution when you are trying to inform yourself in this manner.  There is undoubtedly an over-abundance that will provide you with an information overload, and there is mis-information, and there may be jurisdictional issues from different sources that may not apply to your circumstances.

Understanding that divorce is a legal process

  • There are federal and provincial laws that are involved
  • There are different ways to negotiate a divorce: mediation, collaborative law, litigation
  • Each avenue involves different procedures and rules
  • Hire a lawyer who you trust in the area you want to use, or apply for legal aid if you don’t have the financial resources to hire a lawyer
  • The Canadian Bar Association has a Lawyer Referral Service that you can contact to obtain a 30 minute consultation for $25 + tax, by calling 604-687-3221 or 1-800-663-1919.
  • Legal Services Society (Legal Aid) can be contacted at 604-408-2172, or 1-866-577-2525, or online at www.legalaid.bc.ca.
  • Set out your short and long-term priorities and concerns

Take care of your health

  • Both physical and emotional well-being
  • See your doctor if you are not feeling well
  • See a counselor to help process the emotions surrounding the separation and the changes to your life

Obtain financial expertise

  • Talk to a financial professional about figuring out your budget or assessing the different financial scenarios of your separation, or find a financial divorce expert
  • You may need to apply for income assistance if you qualify for that support. For more information, call the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation at 1-866-866-0800 or go online at iaselfserve.gov.bc.ca.

Financial Facts

  • Gather all of your legal and financial documents (if you did not have access to the financial information during the marriage, you may need to search the house, safety deposit box or storage facility to obtain the following information)

Legal

  • Personal information – each spouse’s full legal name and any aliases, date of birth and Social Insurance Number, date of separation or projected date of separation, length of marriage/cohabitation, current living arrangements, current occupation of both parties and name/address of employer and annual income, and possibly both spouse’s income potential if they are unemployed or underemployed
  • Driver’s License/Passport/Citizenship documents or other identification – your lawyer is required to prove your identity
  • Children’s birth certificates and/or adoption papers and passports
  • Cohabitation/Pre-nuptial/Marriage Agreement, if any
  • Marriage Certificate issued from Vital Statistics (not the document signed at the ceremony)
  • Wills, Powers of Attorney and/or Health Care Directives/Representation Agreements
  • Other agreements – shareholder’s agreements, promissory notes, trusts, etc.

Taxes, Investments, Property

  • Tax returns and notices of assessment for each spouse for the last three years
  • Yours can be requested from the CRA by calling: 1-800-959-8281
  • Current and end-of-year pay stubs for each spouse
  • Tax returns and notices of assessment for any corporate entities, trusts or children for the last three years
  • Investment and insurance statements for each spouse for all RRSPs, TFSA, RESPs, RRIFs, and non-registered investment accounts
  • Confirm the beneficiaries for all registered accounts
  • Canada Pension Plan statements and any other national pension statements you or your spouse may have
  • Pension statements and group benefit information booklets
  • If you are already receiving your pension, documents regarding the pension options that were chosen at your retirement
  • Property valuation, appraisal or government assessment or tax notice for each piece of real estate that you own
  • BC Property Assessments can be pulled online from https://evaluebc.bcassessment.ca/

Personal Assets

  • Jewellery, antiques, art and other collections of value – try to provide an appraisal or insured value for each asset
  • Ownership papers for every vehicle
  • Note whether each asset was brought into the marriage, purchased during the marriage or given to one or both of you as a gift or inheritance

Debts

  • Get statements for each debt if possible, note which loans or accounts pre-date the marriage
  • For every debt – mortgage, car loan, credit cards, secured and unsecured lines of credit, education debts, and all other debts – find out the name of the lending institution, balance owing, security provided, interest rate and amortization, along with the monthly payment amount
  • Ensure you include any debts you have guaranteed or co-signed for a company or family member or other person

Banking, Spending and Consumer Debts

  • Statements for all banking and credit accounts
  • For existing joint debt, make sure you understand what obligation you have, and what controls are in place (or should be) so that the debt does not mount without your knowledge or consent
  • If you don’t have separate accounts, considering opening a separate account for yourself
  • If you don’t have separate credit cards, consider applying for your own credit card for your own expenses
  • If you have children, be sure to document how much you spend on direct children’s expenses (clothes, activities, sports, music lessons, schooling/supplies, medical, etc.)

Individual Life, Disability, Long Term Care and Critical Illness Insurance

  • Get copies of all the policies in force, understand the coverage in place on each spouse, the cost of each policy and the beneficiaries appointed
  • Confirm with your lawyer when and how the beneficiaries can be changed and put in place the required checks and balances if necessary

Corporations/Businesses

  • If you or your spouse owns a business, provide any partnership agreements or any other relevant agreements
  • Provide the corporate structure: Is there one company or more? Who owns the company? Who has voting shares? Who owns the dividend shares? Has there been a re-organization or any tax planning done with these entities?
  • Are there any business debts that have been co-signed or guaranteed by you or your spouse?
  • Are there any assets owned by the business (cars or real estate)?
  • Get the most recent three years of financial statements for the business including notes

Housing

  • If you will be moving after your divorce, get informed about the cost of either renting or owning in your area and in other areas you might consider. Look around but do not commit to something yet – just see what your money can afford. Consider the costs of furnishings and household goods.

Special Situations

  • Be sure to tell your lawyer and financial professional if there are any special considerations such as:
  • Dependent parents
  • Physically disabled individuals
  • Children or others with learning or other disabilities
  • Children from a previous relationship of either spouse
  • An inheritance received during the relationship

Your Budget

  • Determine your current budget and your interim cash management strategy
  • Figure out your post-divorce cash flow needs, and what expenses are required for your children
  • Make the transition for children as easy as possible

Children

  • Unless there are safety issues, ensure children have access to both parents until a regular schedule can be determined
  • Don’t involve your children in your divorce. Don’t talk to them about the problems you are having settling your affairs with the other parent, or try to alienate them from the other parent by spreading dissent or speaking disparaging comments about the other.
  • Children feel the stress of this process too. Watch for changes in their behaviour and in school performance. Make sure to keep their teacher and school counselor informed. Don’t hesitate to get them professional help or support if they are acting out or need to take to someone who is uninvolved.

During Divorce To Do’s

  • Keep in contact and involved with your lawyer and other professionals throughout the file. You should be the one making the decisions and directing the file, considering all of your options, and maintaining an active role by staying completely informed. Make sure you understand what you are agreeing to instead of just relying on your lawyer to say that it is in your best interests.  This will ensure that there are no miscommunications later on in the file.
  • The divorce process can be difficult. If necessary, visit a counselor to help you through the process.  There is also the option of finding a divorce support group, grief group or other professionals.
  • For parenting time, use a hard copy annual calendar and specifically mark down what the schedule is, taking into consideration the holidays and special days, like birthdays or vacation time. It is easier to follow and confirm when it is laid out in front of you rather than remembering the schedule in your head.
  • Parenting issues checklist – what to consider when negotiating:

Living arrangements and parenting schedules

  • Residential arrangements (nesting, primary residence, moving between two homes)
  • Geographical considerations (parents living within a certain distance of each other to limit travel time, and considering where the child’s school is located)
  • Movement of your child between homes (pick-up and drop-off times and locations and who is responsible for it)
  • Moving (planning ahead if one party wants to move away with or without the child, how notice should be received and when, and if it must be by consent, and how the parenting arrangements will be affected)
  • Child care and babysitting arrangements and how they will be paid
  • Communication with the child while in the care of the other parent
  • Changes to the parenting schedule (discussing circumstances that might require a change to the regular schedule, such as illness, lateness, social events, special occasions, unforeseen events, etc., and how will they be managed, how much notice is required, and if make-up time with a parent will be accommodated)
  • Right of first refusal if one parent is unable to care for the child during their parenting time, how much notice is required
  • Child’s belongings (will they move between homes with the child, or will duplicates be purchased, who will purchase them)
  • Child’s social life (time with friends, taking the child to social events, who will buy the gifts for birthday parties, etc.)
  • Provisions for step-children, if any

Vacation, holidays and special days

  • Arrangements for holidays (will the parents switch holidays every year or alternate between households?)
  • Arrangements for other significant days (birthdays, mother’s and father’s day, weddings, graduations, funerals, etc.)

Health care

  • Decisions about medical or dental care
  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Arrangements for medical or dental check-ups
  • Care if a child is ill
  • Health card arrangements
  • Access to medical records
  • Medical insurance arrangements
  • Arrangements for any special needs of your child

Children with special needs

  • Decisions about any testing or assessments
  • Arrangements for special treatments, therapies or services needed now and in the future
  • Decisions about any treatment required
  • Arrangements for any supplies or equipment or medication
  • Decisions about which parent is available if the child requires care
  • Decisions about rules of communication between parents
  • Decisions about who will advocate for child if parents do not agree on a treatment plan

Education

  • Decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special educational needs, tutoring, etc.
  • School records
  • Attendance at parent-teacher conferences and school events
  • School trips
  • School absences

Extra-curricular Activities

  • How many and what time? Is consent needed before enrolling
  • Schedule of activities for children

Religion

  • Religious upbringing and activities

Culture

  • Cultural events, education and activities
  • Language instruction

Grandparents and extended family

  • Visits (how often and when they will take place, limits on people in attendance)
  • Communication

Travel

  • Notice of travelling with the child, if notice and consent is necessary prior to booking and whether all travel applies or just travel out of province. Also consider the necessary information that must be exchanged pertaining to itineraries and contact information.
  • Written and/or notarized consent to travel out of country
  • Children’s passports

Communication between parents

  • Type of information that must be communicated and contact information
  • Method of communication
  • Frequency of communication
  • Emergency communication

Solving Problems

  • Method for resolving disagreements – mediation, counselor, lawyer, etc.
  • Payment of costs for dispute resolution services

Other Parenting Issues

  • Basic safety requirements, including supervision
  • Discipline and lifestyle expectations
  • Children’s use of computer, social networking, other electronic devices and phone usage
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Gifts
  • Photographs
  • Family pets
  • Involvement of new partners and family

Child support

  • The right of the child, both parents’ respective obligations
  • Amount, method and duration
  • Special and/or extraordinary expenses
  • Health insurance
  • Post-secondary education expenses
  • RESPs, savings or investments
  • Step-children considerations
  • Claiming children as dependents for income tax purposes

Spousal support

  • Consider how much net disposable income you have and budget accordingly
  • May need to negotiate health insurance benefits and if/how they will be maintained
  • Assess whether more educational or vocational training may be needed by either party to re-enter the workforce if there has been a lapse, and how much that education will cost and the estimated time it will take to complete.

Housing

  • How the property is held, in joint tenancy, tenants in common, or sole ownership, bare trustee
  • Determine if both parties will remain in the former family residence and how that will work (separate spaces of the house, privacy, etc.)
  • An application or negotiation for exclusive occupation of the former family residence may be appropriate.
  • Determine how the household expenses will be paid (insurance, repairs, upkeep, taxes, utilities, etc)
  • Responsibility for mortgage payments
  • How to divide the household contents and furnishings
  • If a sale of the family residence is necessary and how it will be conducted, and if a party will remain in the family residence until sale
  • Possibly obtaining an appraisal of the property
  • What to do with any investment or rental property

Dividing other property and debts

  • Gathering all information on all assets and liabilities for both parties
  • Motor vehicles and their insurance (if transfers are necessary)
  • Bank and investment accounts
  • Consumer debt and credit cards
  • Future debt responsibilities
  • Releases
  • Retirement/pension funds
  • Life insurance
  • Tax filings and refunds
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Business assets and liabilities – changing directors and shareholders
  • Inheritances
  • Bankruptcy
  • Equalization payment, if any, and its calculation
  • Taking excluded property into consideration and tracing it
  • Compensation for contributions as homemaker or assisting a spouse through educational pursuits

Other things to consider

  • Name changes for parties and/or children
  • How to handle disagreements
  • Consequences of reconciliation
  • Payment of legal fees
  • Independent legal advice
  • Full and transparent disclosure
  • Make sure you clearly understand everything in your settlement agreement and other related documents before signing. If there is anything you do not understand, consult with a professional for advice.

Post-Divorce To Do’s

  • Hold on to several copies of the divorce order or separation agreement as they may be needed to transfer property, accounts, etc. or used for applications for passports, etc.
  • Consider filing the separation agreement in the court registry. Though not mandatory, it may prove useful if you need to apply for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program later on.
  • Make sure you actually apply and follow through with the division of retirement funds – the divorce itself will not automatically make this happen, you must take the correct steps to enact the division.
  • Complete the T2220 to divide RRSP assets if applicable
  • File notice with the plan administrator and request to become a limited member using Form P1 and P2
  • Make a new will and change your beneficiary designations on RRSPs, insurance policies and investments.
  • Consider issuing a new Power of Attorney and Representation Agreement for health care.
  • Possibly register with Family Maintenance Enforcement Program to ensure the timely payment of support.
  • Joint accounts and credit cards to be closed and distributed accordingly, ensure no outstanding cheques, or if maintaining account, remove one name.
  • Establish credit with new credit cards or store charge cards, points/rewards cards.
  • Make sure any automatic payments or withdrawals from bank accounts are updated prior to closing any accounts.
  • Confirm there are no loan guarantees outstanding
  • Distribute and divide the property as soon as possible after finalizing the agreement or order, so that nothing is forgotten.
  • Take care of your safety deposit box and divide the contents if necessary. Open a new one for yourself if you have valuables that need to be secured.
  • Change title, registration and transfer insurance on any vehicles and license plates that need updating.
  • Redirect mail if a move is necessary, then update all accounts and insurance with the new address.
  • Take care of any name change applications and notifications to the appropriate places.
  • Keep a journal of all parenting visitation and support payments to have a log detailing it should it be necessary later on.
  • File Form RC65 to notify CCTB, UCCB and GST of the change in your marital status
  • If you have not applied for the CCTB, UCCB or GST programs, ensure you register for them right away
  • Ensure your next tax return is filed with the appropriate marital status
  • If applicable, remove former spouse from benefits and ensure that your children have the appropriate coverage according to the terms of the agreement.
  • Or apply for Blue Cross or other individual group benefits for yourself
  • Submit your claims to your group carriers for all your medical and dental expenses incurred up to the agreed upon date
  • Ensure you have set up your own BC Medical, Pharmacare and group benefits
  • Split the Canada Pension Plan Credits (online help: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/fi-if/index.jsp?app=prfl&frm=isp1901&lang=e)