What happens to the house? The business? The bank account?
How do you avoid making a huge financial mistake while dealing with the crisis of separation?
The division of property and debt is often the most contentious and difficult issues in a divorce. If you have significant matrimonial property, you'll need an experienced family lawyer to help negotiate a fair settlement.
This is all the more true where your property is tied up in a family business, complex assets and liabilities, or in more than one jurisdiction. What happens to the business you've built together? What happens when one spouse owns shares or options that he or she is not able to sell? How do you value properties owned overseas, whether in Hawaii or London?
We've built our practice around answering exactly these types of questions and helping our clients resolve such issues through negotiation, mediation, and (where required) in Court.
FC&Z Family Lawyers has decades of experience in property division negotiation and litigation. We've negotiated property settlements for thousands of clients across Western Canada. Call our Calgary office at (403) 460-1230 and we'll help you get started.
What is Matrimonial Property Division?
When a relationship ends, there are financial and practical consequences for everyone involved. This is true whether you are a married or in a common-law relationship under the Alberta Family Law Act, and whether you are a traditional couple or in a same-sex relationship.
The life you built with your partner comes to an end. In order to start your new life, you'll have to divide what you've earned, saved and built. This means deciding on how to distribute your property and assets, but it also means sharing in any debt taken on during the course of the relationship.
How is Property and Debt Divided at the end of a Marriage?
It's important that the distribution of assets and debt be made on a fair and practical basis. Exactly what property is divided and how that division is made can vary. Here's a few general principles:
- Married couples are entitled to an equal share of any assets acquired during the relationship, and must share any debts.
- Unmarried couples may also be entitled to an equal share of assets and debts, provided they meet the definition of "spouse" in the Family Law Act
- Exemptions exist for property and debt acquired before the relationship, but exemptions may be lost where property is transferred into a new account or put under both names
In addition to the above rules, a spouse may have a claim for an unequal division of property under special circumstances, such as where the other spouse has been dissipating assets or not contributing during the relationship. A matrimonial property lawyer can help you determine what principles are relevant to your situation.
The Division of Property can be Difficult and Complex
Although the legal principles governing the division fo matrimonial property are relatively straightforward, things can get complicated quickly.
For example, what happens when one party brings a major asset (i.e. a house or a business) into the relationship and it increases in value during the relationship? Is the answer different if both spouses contributed to the increase in value? What about assets that vest over time, such as an RRSP or pension? What about stock options that are guaranteed to vest after the date of separation? Family lawyers are trained in resolving these types of issues and can help you reach a fair settlement, quickly.
Adding to the difficulty is the emotion that accompanies divorce and separation.
Sometimes, a house is more than an asset - it's a home. We can help craft a strategy for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.
In another case, both parties might be deeply attached to a pet, or even a painting. We can work with you to develop a plan for dividing the property fairly while retaining what matters most to you.
A Strategy for Avoiding Disputes Over Property
The underlying principle of property division is that property has to be divided. No one spouse can take everything, and so neither person gets to keep everything they had before. The emotion associated with a divorce can make it very difficult to accept this new reality. However, this conflict can be avoided by entering a pre-nuptial agreement or cohabitation agreement. Working with a family lawyer to set out a fair and reasonable agreement can avoid great difficulties later on.
Property Division at FC&Z Family Lawyers
The family law team at FC&Z Family Lawyers is deeply familiar with the legislation governing the division of matrimonial property and common law separations. Under Alberta law, this is the Family Law Act. Our team can work closely with you to determine what assets need to be divided, and how best to divide them.
If your assets are complex or involve a business, we may engage a business valuator or other financial professional to work with you to assess your assets and make a tax-efficient plan for their distribution. This type of planning is our strength, and we have extensive multi-disciplinary experience in advising high net-worth divorcing couples and successfully negotiating separation agreements.
Once we've developed a legal strategy, we can work towards resolving any dispute over property division through a combination of negotiation, mediation, and court procedure where appropriate.
In our experience it is quite rare for property disputes to require a trial.
More typically, difficult questions can be resolved outside of court, including through binding arbitration where negotiations fail to result in a settlement.
We Can Help You Divide Your Matrimonial Property Fairly and Resolve Conflicts
Your new life starts with you. We can help. Speak with a family lawyer regarding the division of your assets and liabilities, and move forward towards resolution.
Call our Calgary, A.B. office at (403) 460-1230 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.