The Impact of Alberta’s Family Law Act on Separating Couples in Alberta
The termination of a relationship can be an emotional and complex situation. When two people separate in Alberta, several key laws that govern family matters come into play. The most significant one is the Family Law Act, which helps couples navigate disputes over support issues, guardianship decisions, and more.
At Verhaeghe Law, our Alberta family lawyers have decades of experience in all areas pertaining to family law. From the division of assets to child custody, we offer tailored legal solutions, in-depth case consultations, and a team that is committed to serving your best interests.
Defining Separation and Separation Agreements
In Alberta, a married couple may have decided to separate, which is often considered the step preceding a divorce. When not married, a couple is considered to be in an adult interdependent partnership (AIP). Often referred to as "common law", an AIP is established if they have lived together for at least three years, have a child together, or have entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement. AIPs may terminate the relationship by written agreement or by living apart for one year.
For both AIPs and married couples, when the two parties start living apart from one another, they are considered separated. There are also instances where couples are considered separated even if they live under the same roof. When couples temporarily reconcile their relationship or are separated but still live together, defining an ongoing separation may become complicated. In these particular situations, it may be useful to file a separation agreement.
A legally-binding document, separation agreements may provide a clear outline of how the two parties intend to divide property, debts, and assets. It may also lay out plans for child and spousal support, and other child-related decisions and responsibilities.
Contactl our offices to have a Verhaeghe Law family lawyer review your separation options and help you make the next step.
Child Support after Separation
Under the Family Law Act, regulations surrounding child support during a separation include the guardianship of children and establishing parentage. It also addresses a child's contact with a non-parent or non-guardian, and spousal/partner and child support obligations for previous spouses/partners who are not seeking a divorce or were never married. The Alberta Child Support Guidelines provides specific details about child support obligations of non-married parents.
You may qualify for child support if you have care and control over a child, even if you are not the parent. Child support amounts are decided based on the income levels of both parents and the child's needs. Parenting agreements may also be taken into account, as well as additional expenses such as a child's extracurricular activities or health care requirements.
Both parents are expected to financially contribute to the best of their ability. If you are experiencing an ongoing separation and have inquiries about child support in Alberta, it is recommended to consult with a family lawyer.
Spousal Support after Separation
Unlike the mandatory nature of child support, spousal support guidelines during a separation are advisory, meaning there is flexibility in how support is calculated and determined. Some factors include:
- Length of the marriage or relationship: The marital/relationship duration may increase the probability of spousal support being granted, especially if one partner has been financially reliant on the other.
- Financial need: Both spouses' financial circumstances will be examined, encompassing their income, assets, and capacity for earning. If one spouse requires financial assistance and the other has the means to provide, spousal support might be allotted.
- Standard of living during the marriage/AIP: Maintaining a lifestyle similar to what it was during the marriage might be considered, particularly if one spouse significantly contributed to the household but may suffer financially post-separation.
- Childcare responsibilities: If one spouse serves as the primary caregiver and cannot work full-time due to childcare duties, this could impact the decision regarding spousal support.
- Age and health of the spouses: The age and health of both partners may be considered if it affects their capability to work and support themselves financially.
- Agreements between spouses: Couples can also come to spousal support agreements through direct negotiation or mediated settlements, subject to court approval.
It is important to note that spousal support may be temporary or long-term, based on the specifics of each case and the needs of the separating couple. Spousal support is determined under the Family Law Act if the parties are applying after living in an adult interdependent relationship, or if the parties were married and are now undergoing separation, but have not yet commenced divorce proceedings.
Parenting and Custody
Under the Family Law Act, the term "parenting" is used instead of "custody" to describe the plan created by separated parents that will outline how decisions will be made for shared children. It also outlines how the parents' time with the child will be split.
Similar to custody options under the federal Divorce Act, parenting arrangements may take many different forms. Children may see an equal 50-50 split of their time between parents. In these shared situations, major decisions tend to be made together by both parents and responsibilities tend to be split evenly.
In the case of two or more children, one child may live mostly with one parent while the other child lives mainly with the other. In these situations, parents may still have split responsibilities.
Sometimes, the agreed parenting arrangement may dictate that the child live with one parent only, meaning that parent has the right to make all major decisions. The other parent may still have access to the child on a less frequent basis.
These plans may alter as children grow and their needs change. Alberta's Family Law Act addresses all areas of parenting agreements between couples who were never married or are married and not yet seeking a divorce. Contact our legal team to learn more about your parenting rights.
Alternative Dispute Resolution and Other Areas
Another noteworthy section of the Family Law Act as it pertains to separation is its emphasis on alternative dispute resolution. The act advocates for mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods to facilitate separating couples in reaching agreements concerning their separation, particularly surrounding support and parenting arrangements. These processes are in place so that court can be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
The act also addresses protection orders in instances of family violence. These may involve restraining orders aimed at keeping an abusive partner away from the threatened partners and any children.
Plus, Family Court Assistance provides many educational seminars regarding family law matters, including:
- Parenting After Separation (PAS)
- Parenting After Separation for High Conflict Families (PASHC)
- Focus On Communication in Separation (FOCIS)
Contact Our Legal Team For a Consultation
The end of a relationship can take an emotional toll on all parties involved. If you are undergoing a separation and are uncertain about spousal or child support obligations in Alberta, it is advisable to seek legal counsel from a family lawyer who can offer expert guidance. We aim to work with clients to reach a satisfactory resolution in a timely manner. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation and learn more about separation and other family law matters.
** Please note, this article is intended as a general overview on the subject of family law, and is not intended to be legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice, please consult with an Alberta family lawyer.