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How long does a divorce take to finalize?

After separating from your spouse, it may feel like your marriage is over and done with. But did you know that your marriage is not legally over until you get a divorce? Here is what you should know about the process to get a divorce and how long it takes.

Conditions for getting a divorce in BC

The only way to legally end a marriage in BC is by getting a divorce order from a Supreme Court judge. To apply to get divorced in BC, there are a few conditions that must be met:

  • You or your spouse must have lived in BC for at least one year when the divorce process is started;

  • You or your spouse will continue living in BC throughout the divorce process;

  • You can show that you have made reasonable arrangements for any children, including financial support; and

  • You can demonstrate that your marriage has broken down on one of three grounds.

Grounds for divorce impact the time it takes to finalize

The most common of the “grounds for divorce” is living separately and apart for a minimum of one year. Spouses don’t actually have to live in separate houses to be considered living separate and apart, although if you do live in the same house you have to be able to prove that your existance in that house has been ‘separate and apart’. You can start divorce proceedings at any point after separation, but the judge will not grant a divorce order until you and your spouse have been separated for at least one year.

There are two other grounds for divorce: (1) that the marriage breakdown was caused by adultery; or (2) intolerable physical/mental cruelty. These grounds don’t require spouses to live separately and apart for at least one year, but most divorces that rely on one of these two grounds end up taking more than a year to resolve because the allegations of adultery or cruelty must be proven in court. Most spouses opt to simply wait a year.

Timing for getting a divorce in BC

The process of getting a divorce starts with filing a Notice of Family Claim in the Supreme Court of BC. You must file court documents even if you and your spouse agree that you want to be divorced, and even if you and your spouse have resolved all issues arising from your marriage (such as parenting, child support, spousal support, and division of property and debt). The timeline and process to finalize the divorce differs greatly if spouses do not or cannot agree on outstanding issues.

“Desk Order” or uncontested divorce is the quickest

Where spouses have resolved all issues by separation agreement or court order, one spouse can file on their own, or the spouses can file jointly for an uncontested or undefended divorce (also called a “desk-order divorce”).

  • If the spouses start joint divorce proceedings, the timeline will be shorter. Neither spouse needs to serve court forms, which means there is no need to wait out the 30-day response deadline.

  • If the divorce proceedings are started by one spouse on their own, the filed court documents must be served on the other spouse:

  • If the other spouse does not respond within 30 days of being served with the sole divorce application, the divorce can proceed as an uncontested or undefended divorce.

  • If the other spouse does not agree with the claims made, he or she has 30 days to file a response. If they do file a response, the divorce is now considered contested (contested divorces are discussed below).

To get a desk order or uncontested divorce order, there are specific forms and supporting documents that must be filed with the Supreme Court. Once the application package has been submitted to the Court, it takes time for it to be reviewed and processed. The waiting period is usually about 2 to 4 months but can take longer depending on the court backlog. The application will be rejected by the court if it is not done properly; you can refile, but this will cause a delay in finalizing your divorce. If the paperwork is done correctly and the judge is satisfied that the conditions for divorce have been met, the judge will grant a divorce order without a hearing or either spouse having to go to court.

Contested divorce process takes more time

The process for a contested divorce involves many steps including attending court hearings, completing and analyzing detailed financial statements, and a trial if the spouses can’t come to an agreement on all outstanding issues. There are several options for resolving issues so that you can get divorced, including settlement negotiations (directly between spouses or with the help of divorce lawyers) and/or mediation to reach a written separation agreement. Another option is to first apply to the BC Provincial Court to get necessary orders, and then apply for a divorce order in the BC Supreme Court.

Timing for remarriage

A BC divorce order becomes effective 31 days after the judge signs it. You cannot remarry until that 31-day period has elapsed. If you need to legally divorce because you are planning to remarry in the near future, it is recommended that you connect with an experienced divorce lawyer to make sure your divorce application package is done right the first time.

Reach out for advice on how to prepare for your divorce

Prince George’s Dick Byl Law Corporation can help you navigate through the challenging process of separation and divorce. It is so important to be prepared and understand your rights under divorce law. Reach out to us to book your appointment today. Our divorce lawyer can guide you through each step of the process and help you avoid delay in finalizing your divorce.


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