Family Law


You should keep in mind that the BC Family Law Act imposes legal obligations on parties which take effect as soon as they have lived in a “marriage-like relationship” for two years.  This can include claims against real estate, businesses, savings and investments, even if the spouse in not a registered owner and even if the spouse has made no contribution.  Spousal support obligations and the obligation to support step-children and arise at the same time. 

If you think Family law is only about separation and divorce, think again.  If you and your partner are married, or have been living together for two or more years, or you have a child together, you are considered to be spouses under the BC Family Law Act.  If you separate without a forma agreement, the Family Law Act will govern how your property will be divided, how child and spousal support is addressed, how your assets and debt will be divided and even how you need to make decisions about your children.  Spouses can make claims against their spouse’s home, business, bank accounts, and savings, even if the accounts are not jointly held with a spouse and even if your spouse has not contributed to the asset.    

A Cohabitation Agreement, which is a written contract that you enter into with your partner, is the best way to ensure that if you separate from your spouse, you and your spouse have control over how you divide the property you own.  Without a written agreement, the property division rules of the Family Law Act will determine what property is part of your joint family property and how it will be divided. 

Are you already considered to be in a common law marriage?  It is never too late to enter into a binding agreement with your partner to address matters if you separate.  And if you are looking to get married, a Marriage Agreement is a similar type of written agreement that allows married partners to control how their property will be divided if they divorce in the future. Properly drafted Cohabitation and Marriage Agreements are normally recognized by the Family Law Act and provide you with the ability to control what will happen to your property and what sort of support might be needed if you need to separate from your spouse.

Cohabitation Agreements and Marriage Agreements are especially important for parties entering into new relationships later in life, when each party may have their own children and assets when starting a new relationship.  Without a written agreement with a second partner or second spouse it is becoming common for a person to die leaving a messy dispute between their adult children and a new spouse who all make claims against the same property.

The cost of any written agreement will depend upon the complexity and the range of issues that an agreement needs to cover.   But if you have assets, the costs of sorting out your legal rights when you separate, or your adult children’s legal rights to your property when you die will make the cost of a formal written agreement worth every penny, and will without question be cheaper than fighting about these matters in court.

Maple Ridge Family Lawyers Tim Watkins and Adele Letwin are experienced in providing advice to common law and married couples and drafting Cohabitation Agreements and Marriage Agreements.


 If you and your spouse are considering a separation it is always best to get comprehensive legal advice about your rights and obligations as soon as possible.  Too often emotion can get in the way of a speedy resolution.  You should know your rights and insist upon a fair agreement, but that does not necessarily mean an expensive trial.  MHW’s lawyers have extensive experience with resolving family disputes outside of court, through mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, and if all else fails, in court.  Tim Watkins and Adele Letwin of our offices are familiar with family law and can help you work through the options you have if you are separating. 

Separation Agreements

When a marriage or cohabitation ends, people have rights and obligations under the BC Family Law Act.  Every person’s situation is different and speaking to a lawyer for advice about your separation is an important step that will allow you to enforce your legal rights during your separation and in the future.

The preferred way for most people to resolve these matters is by entering into a written contract, called a Separation Agreement, with your ex-partner.  A professionally negotiated and drafted Separation Agreement can be an important step in allowing you and your family to move on with your lives.

Negotiating the terms of a fair separation can only occur if you have an understanding of your legal position. You must consider a variety of topics about your children, including parenting arrangements and support for them, property division, including how you will divide your assets and debt, excluded property claims, and whether you may be entitled to collect or may need to pay spousal support for your spouse and the amount to be paid.

You can keep the costs for a separation agreement at a reasonable level if you are able to talk to your spouse and come to an agreement on the terms of your separation, and if you are able to collect and organize financial documents outside of your meetings with your lawyer.  If you are unable to agree about the terms of your separation or substantial negotiation is required to agree to the terms, the costs for a separation agreement will increase.  However, the costs of a written Separation Agreement are typically a fraction of the cost of a court case that goes to trial.  

Both our Maple Ridge Family Law Lawyers Tim Watkins and Adele Letwin, are experienced in family law matters and can provide you with advice relating to a separation or divorce and your legal rights, draft agreements formalizing the terms of your separation. and ensure that you have a binding agreement to move on with your life after your separation is complete.  


Separating from your spouse is difficult and emotional. You and your spouse have grown apart and know that you need to separate, but do not know what this new life is going to look like for your family.  If you are looking for a way to separate that works to preserve your family relationships without going to court, you should consider mediation or collaborative family law as options as compared to a traditional “court centered” separation.


When all else fails, our Maple Ridge Family Lawyers at MHW can represent you in court to ensure you receive a fair settlement when parties separate or divorce.  This may involve parenting issues and child and spousal support claims (which can be resolved in either the Family Court or the BC Supreme Court) and property disputes (which must be heard by the BC Supreme Court).  Both of our Maple Ridge Family Lawyers, Tim and Adele have extensive trial experience and have conducted many complex multi-day trials with successful results.

Collaborative Family Law

If you want someone to advocate for you while you navigate through the stress of separation and divorce, but want to avoid the emotional and financial cost of court, Collaborative Family Law may be the right fit for you.  Collaborative family lawyers and their clients work as a team to help create a plan for your family when you are separating.  Lawyers and clients all agree they will avoid bringing your dispute to court and instead work with a multi-party approach to decide what is best for your family and how to move forward. 

The goal of collaborative family law is to create a separation agreement that is child focussed and strives to meet the entire family’s need to maintain family relationships even after separation. 

One of our family lawyers here in Maple Ridge, Adele Letwin, is a collaborative family law lawyer and part of the Lower Mainland Collaborative Association.  Give her a call if you are interested in learning more about Collaborative Family law options.  For more detailed online information on Collaborative Family Law, see the website at  


If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of your separation, then you may need a judge to finalize your separation, the Maple Ridge family lawyers at McEachern Harris & Watkins can represent you in court to ensure you receive a fair settlement.  This may involve parenting issues, child and spousal support claims, and property disputes. Both of our family lawyers, Tim Watkins and Adele Letwin, have extensive trial experience and have conducted many complex multi-day trials with successful results.

There are two levels of court in British Columbia that deal with family law claims.  The Provincial Court of British Columbia can deal with limited family law claims, including guardianship for children, parental responsibilities, parenting time, and both child and spousal support matters.   If you have property and require a property division the Supreme Court of British Columbia deals with property division as well as the matters that can be brought before the Provincial Court.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of court, and our family lawyers, Tim Watkins and Adele Letwin, can help discuss what level of court best fits your situation.

It can be difficult to predict the costs of a family law court proceeding.  The reasonableness of the position taken by the other party will make a difference, as well the complexity of your issues, and the type of issue that must be decided by the court.  Pre-trial steps like financial disclosure, examinations for discovery and the need for expert evidence can all increase trial costs rapidly.  And pre-trial interim applications to settle urgent questions regarding support or parenting or to obtain information will also add to the cost of any separation.  However, McEachern Harris and Watkins will try work for you as efficiently as possible, and to keep you advised as to your costs as the matter proceeds.