About Divorce and Separation

A "separation" is when a couple decides to live apart from each other because the relationship has broken down. The couple may be married, or they may be unmarried but living together like a married couple in a common-law relationship.

A "divorce" is when a court officially ends a marriage. Only legally married couples can divorce.

Under Canada's Constitution, the federal, provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for family law.

Federal Law

The main federal family law is the Divorce Act. The Act only applies to married couples who have divorced or who have applied for a divorce.

The Divorce Act sets out rules about:

  • the grounds for a divorce
  • child support when parents divorce
  • spousal support following a divorce
  • custody and parenting arrangements for children after a divorce

The Divorce Act is a federal law, which means that it applies across Canada. But the processes for getting a divorce fall under provincial or territorial law.

Provincial and Territorial Laws

Provincial and territorial laws also have rules about child support, spousal support, and custody and parenting arrangements for children. These laws apply when an unmarried couple separates and when a married couple separates but does not apply for a divorce.

The laws of a province or territory may be similar to the Divorce Act and to laws in other parts of Canada. However, there could also be important differences that could affect your rights and responsibilities.

Some matters always fall under provincial or territorial law in both separation and divorce cases. For example, the provinces and territories are responsible for:

  • the administration of justice, including processing divorce applications and making decisions about child support, spousal support and child custody
  • rules about dividing shared property
  • family justice services such as mediation and parenting education.

The website of your provincial or territorial Ministry of Justice or Attorney General has more information about the laws and processes that apply in your province or territory.

Having a foreign divorce recognized in Canada

Canada generally recognizes a divorce from another country if:

  • the divorce was valid under the laws of that country; and
  • one or both spouses lived in that country for a full year immediately before applying for the divorce.

There may also be other factors that could affect whether or not your divorce would be recognized in Canada. If you are not sure whether your divorce would be recognized in Canada, you should speak to a lawyer.

Divorcing a spouse you sponsored to come to Canada

If you have sponsored someone to come to Canada as your spouse, the sponsorship undertaking that you signed remains in effect for three years after the person becomes a permanent resident, even if you separate or divorce during that period. You are responsible for the basic needs of your sponsored spouse throughout the duration of the sponsorship undertaking.

More information on sponsoring a spouse can be found on Citizenship and Immigration Canada's website.

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