Family Law

Family law regulates legal relationships in a family. It lays down all the rules encompassing separation, divorce, parenting arrangements, child custody, spousal support and property division.

It is essential for abused women to understand these rules, which are often quite complex, in order to be able to regain control over their life.

Separation and Divorce

Separation occurs when a couple decides to no longer live together. It does not require a court decision to be official. However, a couple may resort to a court decision to settle certain matters.

Divorce occurs when a court officially puts an end to a marriage. The married spouses must therefore take legal steps to formalize it.

Financial support for an ex-spouse is a sum of money that a spouse pays their ex-spouse following a separation or divorce to help provide for their basic needs. A judge determines whether a spouse is eligible, as well as the amount.

Only married spouses can claim financial support for the ex-spouse. It does not apply to common-law couples who separate.

In Quebec, all parents are duty-bound to financially support their children. If parents separate or divorce, the children must be able to continue to benefit from the income of both their parents. The latter are therefore responsible for agreeing on the amount of child support.

Child support is the money that one parent pays the other to help them provide for the basic needs of their children. It is always the parent who does not have custody that pays the child support to the other parent, even if the income of the parent with custody is higher. In shared custody situations, one parent may also be required to pay child support.

In the event of a separation or divorce, one of the important steps for the people involved is agreeing on the division of property. In Quebec, dividing up the property of married couples or those in civil partnerships depends on the category that the property belongs to: family patrimony or matrimonial regime.

The rules defining the division of property of the family patrimony and the matrimonial regime are for married couples and those in civil unions. For the latter, the term “civil union regime” is used instead of “matrimonial regime.”

These rules do not apply to couples in a common-law relationship. For these couples, no regulatory framework exists concerning the division of property in the event of separation. In principle, each member of a common-law relationship manages their own property.

Family Patrimony Property

The list of property belonging to the family patrimony is established by law. It includes:

  • Family residences (home, cottage, condo, etc.)
  • The objects in these residences (furniture, household appliances, electronic devices, works of art, etc.)
  • The vehicles used by the family
  • The money saved in a retirement plan during the marriage (RRSP, pension fund)
  • Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) earnings during the marriage

During a legal separation, divorce or termination of a civil union, the value of the family patrimony property is usually divided in half between the two spouses.

If one of the spouses owes the other a certain sum of money, they can pay by cash or by transferring ownership of property.

Some property in the list above may be excluded from the family patrimony. Examples are property that was inherited or received as a gift.

Matrimonial Regime Property

All property not included in the list of property constituting the family patrimony automatically falls under the matrimonial regime. Here are a few examples:

  • Bank accounts
  • Money saved during the marriage
  • Income property and rents
  • Investments (except RRSPs and pension plans)
  • Property not used by the family
  • Debts and personal loans

In the event of divorce, the value or ownership of this property is shared according to the rules of the couple’s matrimonial regime.

In Quebec, there are three main matrimonial regimes:

  • Community of property is the legal matrimonial regime that applies to couples married before July 1, 1970.
  • Partnership of acquests is the legal matrimonial regime that applies to couples married after July 1, 1970.
  • Separation as to property

The legal matrimonial regime applies automatically to spouses who have no marriage contract. If the spouses signed a marriage contract with a notary, the matrimonial regime specified in the contract is the one that applies.

In some situations, none of the 3 matrimonial regimes apply. That is the case, for example, if the spouses lived outside Quebec when they married.

Parenting Arrangements

In the event of separation, the dissolution of a civil union or a divorce, parents must establish “parenting arrangements,” intended to define how they will take care of their children. These concern, among other things, the place they will live, the school they will attend, their extracurricular activities, etc.

At the federal level, the Divorce Act sets out the rules governing parenting arrangements for parents who divorce. In Quebec, similar rules exist for unmarried parents and married parents who separate without filing for divorce.

According to the law, parenting arrangements must be established in the best interests of the children.

When parents separate, they are both entitled to have custody of their children. Both parents have equal rights regarding living with their children. Depending on the situation, custody may be shared or awarded to one of the two parents.

In a situation involving conjugal violence, child custody is not automatically awarded to the abused woman. The judge will always award custody based on the interests of the children, taking their well-being and safety into consideration.

Visiting rights are rights that allow children to stay in contact with the parent that does not have custody. They can be in the form of visits, phone calls, outings, etc.

If you are afraid that your ex-partner’s visiting rights are a threat for your safety or that of your children, you can request that the visit take place in a supervised visitation centre.

Parental authority refers to the rights and obligations that parents have towards their children until the latter reach the age of 18. When parents separate, even if custody is awarded to only one of the parents, the other still retains their parental authority.

Justice Services

Ex-partners don’t always agree on the partition of property, spousal support and parenting arrangements. In such cases, they can go to court to have a judge rule on the matter.

However, such procedures can turn out to be expensive, long and/or stressful. To try to avoid having to get the courts involved, family justice services are available to help make decisions and settle disputes.

There are several types of family justice services, such as:

Information and resource centres offer free information on family law and legal proceedings. They can also provide support to people in need in their proceedings and/or point them toward appropriate legal and community resources.

Parent education programs offer emotional support and assist people who need support in their parenting role during a separation. They are offered by lawyers or social workers.

This page provides general information on the law in force in Quebec and the available resources. Under no circumstances does it constitute legal advice. For more information, please feel free to contact us or consult a lawyer.