Educational Resources

Legal Separation: A Blueprint (Part I)

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

It’s no surprise that divorcing couples find many things to disagree about.  Common topics include money, kids, and who-gets-what in the split.  

But for some couples, even their exact separation date can be up for dispute. This is especially true these days, when economic factors may force them to keep living under the same roof until they can afford separate residences.  As a prerequisite to getting a divorce, they sometimes have to ask the Family Court to make a formal ruling on the precise date of separation.  This date is critical since it factors into how marital assets are valued, and ultimately divided.

If you want to make sure you make a “clean break” in the eyes of the law – and start that clock ticking on the needed 1-year pre-divorce separation period – here’s the first of a two-part list to consider.

This Part I addresses some of the practical and logistical matters, like living arrangements and finances. Although it’s not an official blueprint (since courts always evaluate this issue on a case-by-case basis), try to do as many of the following as possible: 

Keep Separate Homes

  • Live in separate residences if possible (and if you cannot afford separate homes, then especially make sure to follow the many other steps laid out on this list)
  • Purchase new furniture separately
  • Remove any personal items that each of you have stored at the other’s residence 
  • Avoid visiting the other’s new home except when necessary, and don’t resume cohabiting together at either location

Establish Separate Lives, Even If Still Technically Living Together

  • Keep entirely separate lives and routines, if you still have to share a home
  • Have one of you formally move out of your shared bedroom, and stop having sex 
  • Do your own household chores (e.g. cleaning, laundry) 
  • Shop for and buy your own groceries 
  • Don’t prepare food together, and don’t share meals 

Extricate Your Financial Matters

  • Keep your finances separate, going forward
  • Untie any joint bank accounts, and set up individual separate accounts
  • Don’t contribute jointly to the home expenses; make separate payments
  • Stop making new financial investments together
  • Don’t contribute to each other’s RRSP
  • Close any joint safety deposit boxes

Avoid Joint Property Ownership

  • Take mutual steps to sell any jointly-owned assets  
  • Don’t buy any new property together
  • Stop participating in business ventures your spouse owns, and vice versa

Adjust the Paperwork 

  • Change your Wills, so neither of you is the beneficiary of the estate of the other 
  • Ensure your Income Tax returns show you are “separated”
  • Change the beneficiary on your life insurance policies
  • Ensure any official documents (e.g. loan applications) show as each being “separated” rather than “married”

In the upcoming Part II, we’ll take a look at some of the social and interpersonal ways you can ensure you are separated in the eyes of the law.  Stay tuned. 

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.