Dignity for Albertans: The Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship ActMarch 23, 2009
Adoption: The New BeginningMay 25, 2009
If you have been living with a partner and then separate, you will be answering many of the same questions married spouses have to answer:
- How will you parent your children?
- How will you each contribute to raising your children financially – child support?
- Will either of you pay spousal support?
- How will you divide your property and debts?
Many people negotiate agreements between themselves to answer each of these questions. Alberta law also has some specific and some general answers for people who are not able to negotiate an agreement themselves or with professional assistance from lawyers or mediators.
The Family Law Act and the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act are Alberta statutes setting out the law that applies to parenting, child support and spousal support questions.
Some parenting questions you will need to answer are:
- Will you have sole guardianship or joint guardianship of your children?
- How will you share time with your children?
- How will you communicate about your children?
- How will you make decisions about your children?
- How will your children have contact with grandparents?
The Family Law Act has a basic principle that all of these questions must be answered based on the best interests of the child. The Family Law Act sets out in detail what a court must consider in any proceedings before the court in answering these questions. Since every family situation is different, these principles are quite general in nature. It begins with such things
The Alberta Child Support Guidelines provide rules for Base Table child support and additional child support for special or extraordinary expenses for children under the age of 18, and for children who are between the ages of 18 and 23 and remain financially dependent. These rules are very similar to the Federal Child Support Guidelines that apply to parents who are legally married. You can find detailed information about the Alberta Child Support Guidelines and how they might apply to your situation at http://www.justice.gov.ab.ca/families/law_information.aspx.
Spousal support questions for both unmarried and married spouses are challenging to answer. The general principles for unmarried spouses are outlined in the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. The basic principles in this Act are:
- The spouses must have lived together in an interdependent relationship for three years or more, or
- The spouses have lived together and have a child of their relationship; and
- The court must consider the means, needs or other circumstances of both spouses.
The answers to these questions are needed to determine the first step – is there an entitlement to spousal support?
The next step, if the court finds there is an entitlement to spousal support, is to answer the following questions;
- How long will the support be paid? Will it be paid for a limited time or for an undetermined time? What circumstances will trigger a review at some time in the future?; and
- How much spousal support will be paid? The answer to this question is based on income, budgets, tax consequences and the means and needs of each spouse.
Division of property where spouses are not married is often complex. The Alberta Family Law Act and Law of Property Act, combined with general principles of fairness courts have applied in past cases are used to make decisions very fact specific to each situation. Property in the joint names of the spouses is presumed to be divided equally and the judge will divide all other property based on the above legislation, previously decided cases, the facts of each case and the judge’s opinion. Sometimes a spouse may ask for and may be granted an exclusive possession order for a house, household goods or a vehicle.
There are two other general principles about property division for unmarried spouses:
- property division and child and spousal support can affect each other; and
- the legal principles for dividing property for unmarried spouses are much less certain than they are for married spouses.
You can often prevent problems by getting legal advice early if you are concerned about any of these questions.