Can I start by saying “it’s complicated”? Many people call our office with a “quick question” or tell us that their situation is “very simple”. While we can keep it simple by effectively managing the conflict and the expectations between separating spouses, very rarely is it “simple”. This blog will give an overview of the divorce process from start to finish, in Canada.
Can you give us an overview of the types of topics that separating and divorcing families would need to resolve when splitting up?
Usually in our episodes we go into specific topics relating to separation and divorce, but we haven’t given our viewers a 30,000 ft overview of what topics usually need to be covered.
Lots of times when I first meet with families who are separating, they aren’t sure as to what topics they will need to resolve. They have a general idea, but they usually need some direction.
I thought it would be helpful if we could use this episode to give our viewers a summary of the typical topics to be covered.
Here’s the list, and then we’ll go into each topic individually:
- First, development of a parenting plan;
- Second, child support
- Third, spousal support
- Fourth, division of assets and debts
Let’s start with the parenting plan – please explain
A parenting plan is a document that sets out how you and the other parent will parent your children.
The level of detail of a parenting plan varies, but in essence it is your guidebook to parenting post-separation. Some parenting plans that I draft are one-page long, and others can be 30 pages long – it just depends on the family.
It can contain many topics, but the main ones are:
- Scheduling – there’s what we call the “regular” or “school-based” schedule (click here for full blog), then there’s the holiday scheduling exceptions (click here for full blog).
- Decision-making – how will you make decisions about your children, and what decisions needs to be made by mutual agreement;
- Communication Plan – which is a plan to ensure that communication will be as effective as possible post-separation
Next let’s talk about child support
We had an entire 2-part series on this topic – there are so many details that parents need to consider, and certainly for more detail please check out those blog articles.
For today, let’s get even more basic.
Child support needs to be paid when parents are separated.
Support is divided into 2 basic categories – base support and the “extras”.
To calculate base support we use formulas contained in the Child Support Guidelines. These are available online, and it’s based on 4 things:
- Paying parent’s income
- Number of children
- Province of residence of the paying parent
- Parenting schedule
The “extras” also called Section 7 expenses are expenses that are shared between parents based on their income levels – they are certain defined categories:
- Child care expenses
- Uninsured portion of medical or dental expenses
- Extended health or dental insurance premiums
- Extra-ordinary expenses for primary or secondary school
- Post-secondary school expenses
- Extra-ordinary expenses for extra-curricular activities
Next is spousal support. How does that work?
This is a very complex topic, but in essence this is an amount that is paid from one spouse to the other to assist them financially post-separation
There are 2 questions to ask when looking at spousal support:
First: is there “entitlement” based on the legal principles and the family’s situation?
Second: if the first answer is yes, then we ask “how much for how long”.
To help with that second question there are the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines which are based on formulas to help us with these calculations.
Last but not least, tell us briefly about the Division of Assets & Debts
Again, really complex topics in 30-seconds as an overview for our viewers. Click here for a more detailed blog post.
We use a principle called “community property”. I use the analogy of a big pot on the stove – we dump everything into the pot that’s in the wife’s name, and everything in the husband’s name, and in joint names, and even in the kids’ names – once it’s all in there, we remove from the pot anything that we call “exempt” – that’s specific categories of property that doesn’t get divided. Once we have everything in the pot that should be in the pot, we divide that pot in 2.
In order to figure out what goes in that pot, we need to transparently exchange documentation between separating spouses.
In order to keep everything organized, we create a net worth spreadsheet which does the following:
- Lists all the assets, debts, and exemptions,
- Then applies a value to those items,
- Then we start figuring out who’s keeping what
- And then we look at the totals at the bottom to see how equal or unequal we are.
- If there’s an inequality we need to look at how to balance the scales.
This disclosure and spreadsheeting exercise can be very simple or quite complex
Henka Divorce Law & Mediation is a Collaborative Law and Family Mediation firm that helps families thrive as they transition to separation, divorce, or cohabitation. Understanding that every journey is different, we guide families through the right legal or mediation process that fits their unique situation.
Our client service is built on three pillars – focusing on the future, nurturing and supporting children, and working together towards well-being. This includes considering everyone’s needs throughout the process. We work closely with families to provide a meaningful and fair resolution, while keeping costs down by staying out of court.
We serve families in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada through their separation or divorce by providing in-person and virtual Collaborative Law or Mediation services.
With extensive knowledge in matrimonial law, our founder Stephanie Dobson uses a caring, results-focused approach to help parents navigate a family separation or divorce while they connect with and support their children. Learn more about her approach and credentials.