Doing Your Own Divorce in Canada

Doing Your Own Divorce in Canada

Many Canadians prepare and file their divorce papers without using a lawyer. If you choose to do your own divorce, remember that divorce law can be complicated and you will need to pay attention to detail and complete the forms correctly. This article originally appeared as a chapter in the book, Divorce Guide for Canada, written for Self-Counsel Press by lawyer Alison Sawyer, BA, LLB.

Doing your own divorce without legal advice or the help of a lawyer is best done under these circumstances:

  • The ground for divorce is that you have been living separate and apart for at least one year. In some provinces and territories, you will not be able to apply for an affidavit divorce if you use any other ground.
  • There are no dependent children.
  • Neither spouse needs financial support from the other.
  • All property (i.e., personal goods, vehicles, money, debts, RRSPs, pensions, and real estate) has been divided and both spouses are happy with the property settlement.
  • You only need to ask the court to make an order for the divorce itself.

If you have children under the age of majority and have yet to make decisions about financial matters, you will still be in a good position to do your own divorce if you and your spouse have —

  • signed a separation agreement, or
  • have a court order dealing with child custody, access, and support and/or division of property, or

  • have come to an agreement about any or all of these matters.

If you are financially self-sufficient, have no children dependant on you, or your spouse has been paying child support and is in agreement with the custody and support arrangements you are asking to be put in the Divorce Order, you can proceed with an affidavit divorce.

You will have to file enough information with the court (ideally in the form of a separation agreement or consent court order) to satisfy the judge that the arrangements are reasonable and appropriate. In some jurisdictions in this situation, you may still have to appear in front of a judge to get your Divorce Order.

42 thoughts on “Doing Your Own Divorce in Canada

  1. If I filled for divorce and in future I married to someone else. Do I need to have proof I'm divorced in the marriage application? Even if I don't want him to know I had been divorce?

  2. @Ashley, If there are no problems in your case, the expenses will probably add up to about $350 for a do-it-yourself, desk order divorce. This means no lawyer, you fill out the forms and file them at the court registry yourself, and the other spouse doesn't contest anything.

    @Darlene, that is a loaded question. If division of assets was not done as a part of your divorce, try sitting down with your ex. If that's not possible, you may need to consult a lawyer.

    @bing, You should file for divorce in the province or territory you have been resident for at least the past one year. If you are both citizens of another country and have lived there the longest you should apply in that country.

    @steph. Yes, when you apply for a new marriage licence you will need to show your certificates of divorce from any previous marriages. It is not a good idea to lie about previous marriages when applying for a new marriage licence.

  3. I am Ecuadorian/Canadian, we married in Ecuador 12 years ago, we moved to Canada 6 years ago. Is it easier to divorce there or should we aply in the country we got married?.

  4. @David, If you are both currently Canadian residents and have lived in Canada for a year or more, you should file for divorce in Canada, in the province in which you have resided for a year or longer.

  5. If im devorse already in canada and i have girlfriend in australia and she study there can i go in australia and marry here?

    1. Tolendoy,This is a question you should address to the Australian government offices.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  6. Hi my name is Mia. I'm in a situation where I thought our divorce has been filed and divorce order has been granted 2 years ago. But today I called the Divorce Registry and was told that nothing additional was submitted after the filing date, so I'm legally not divorced yet. When I called my ex-spouse's attorney, he told me that my ex has never returned any of his calls and has no submit anything to him after the filing date. So what should I do? Can you please inform me the process and fees? Thank you so much.

  7. Mia, if your spouse is refusing to participate in the paperwork needed for an uncontested divorce, you need a lawyer to help you file for divorce.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

    1. Either one of you can file an application for an uncontested divorce in the province where you now live, provided you have been resident in that province for a year and both of you (a) agree to proceed and (b) agree to the Federal requirements regarding such things as support and (if applicable) child custody. Preparing and signing a Separation Agreement before filing can be helpful. Our divorce kits explain the application process. Richard DayPublisher

  8. Our child is not a minor and has graduated so no child support necessary. We have no division of property or assists. We have been apart since 1998. In the early 90s My spouse is actively avoiding being served. He left the Territories in 2000. I do not know where he is. I want to file the papers. Could this cause a problem for me? If so does that mean I can never get a divorce in the Northwest Territories where we were married and where I still reside?

    1. It is certainly possible to apply for a divorce when your spouse cannot be contacted. The courts generally have procedures for documenting this. We suggest you contact your local court and talk to a “community court worker” who should be able to tell you how to proceed. Go to the Department of Justice website for the Northwest Territories and under Legal Services click on the Legal Aid link, then on the Legal Aid page look for Community Court Workers in the left side column.There you will find contact information and names. Richard DaySelf-Counsel Press

  9. If we have a separation agreement that we have both agree on, can we find a lawyer to be a witness? Or any others methods that you can suggest for us? Thank you.

    1. If the two of you wrote your separation agreement using and following the instructions in our Separation Kit, and complied with the legal requirements described in the kit, then you do not need a lawyer as a witness … you just need your signatures witnessed by adults using the approach described in the kit.If you have simply composed “an agreement” between the two of you, then you should see a lawyer (who will probably want to rewrite the agreement to conform with the law and protect each of your interests if the separation proceeds later to a formal divorce. The lawyer will charge you for the work — how much is unpredictable. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  10. I am seeking a divorce from an abusive relaionship and at present think due to my financial situation that I have to apply without a lawyer. I have been told I must be separated for a year prior to divorce proceedings can be started. Is an abusive relationship a special circumstance? If so do I then require a lawyer?

    1. There are three grounds for divorce:Irreconcilable differences. Partners both wanting to end the marriage is the most common. This can be handled via an application for an uncontested divorce providing that there are no outstanding disputes with your spouse regarding child custody or access, or support payments for the children, or for you or your spouse. In addition, the agreement you have reached with your spouse regarding child support must be acceptable to the court. The partners must have been \”living separate and apart\” for a year before the divorce will be granted. Adultery.Cruelty.The first ground allows one partner (sole applicant) or both (joint applicants) to file their own papers and complete the process without the need for a lawyer.The second and third grounds almost always require the help of a lawyer because the applicant is the person suffering the effects of the adultery or cruelty, and the defendant is highly likely to contest the application, both because of the social stigma attaching to the accusations and because the defendant is usually the primary income earner in the marriage and will become legally liable for support payments after the divorce is final. Unfortunately, what you describe falls into the cruelty classification. It _might_ be possible to work with a mediator to end the marriage, but a lawyer will probably be needed.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  11. I got married in China, but I want a divorce. My husband is a Chinese citizen and I'm a Canadian. I am back in Canada now and he is still in China. Do I file for divorce in Canada or do I have to go back to China to file the divorce? I came back to Canada for 5 months now, can I file for divorce?

  12. Yes, you can file in Canada. If you want to file for an uncontested divorce (your husband also wants a divorce and will sign the papers and will agree to the division of assets and support per the federal rules), you will not be able to get the divorce certificate until 12 months have passed from when you first separated — you can file your papers before the 12 months \”living separate and apart\” is complete, but the court won't issue the final paper until the 12 months have passed.If your marriage papers are in Chinese, you will need to have them translated for the court by a qualified translator. One other possible obstacle is that many provinces require that you have been a resident for a year before filing (you can contact your local court registry office to check this). Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  13. Can someone tell me where I can obtain papers to file for divorce? Are you able to just print them online or do I have to go to a courthouse

    1. We sell inexpensive divorce kits for all provinces except Quebec. They contain both the papers and step-by-step instructions for completing them (the proces is somewhat complicated, but not difficult). Our kits presume the divorce application is “uncontested” – that both parties agree they want a divorce and also agree to abide by the federal laws regarding such issues as spousal and child support and division of assets. For an uncontested divorce, the parties to the marriage must have lived “separate and apart” for 12 months before the divorce certificate will be issued, but the application may be started earlier.If the divorce action is on “contested” grounds (such as abuse or adultery), a lawyer is needed.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

    1. After October 7, 1971, all Hong Kong marriages must have been dissolved through regular divorce proceedings conducted at the appropriate court, with the final decree or divorce registered at the Civil Registry. A certificate \”DECREE ABSOLUTE\” issued by the Family Court Registry bearing the seal of the District Court, is the final document for the divorce in Hong Kong. The advice given to people divorcing in Hong Kong, who plan to use a divorce decree in overseas proceedings, is that they should submit an application for a sealed copy of the decree at the District Court in Hong Kong. Applicants should then take the sealed copy of the divorce decree to the High Court Registry for authentication. If you have done the above, we believe your papers will be accepted in Canada, if you need them. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  14. I am currently dating someone who is separated…there have been some issues with settling..their case is going to trial this January…they have been separated for almost 2 years…I just want to know if this is usually how long a divorce would take?? Would things have moved along quicker if one filed for divorce after the first year of seperation?

    1. If a divorce needs to go to trial, the time it will take to start the trial will depend on numerous factors, including how busy the court is with cases, how much preparation time is required by the lawyers…

      In other words, there really is not a \”usual\” length of time for a contested divorce to be finalized.

      For an uncontested divorce, where both spouses are able to agree on the major issues, they can file the papers before the first year of separation is complete and there is a reasonable chance that the divorce will be finalized shortly after the year of separation ends.

      Richard Day
      Self-Counsel Press

  15. Hi, i want to start the process of my divorce , however my spouse told me that is very expensive; we dont have properties or anything together, just our son; can i start the divorce by myself without involving a lawyer?

    1. Yes, so long as you and your husband agree, you can start and complete your divorce without the need for a lawyer. If you want more information about your options you can call our customer service line:Phone: 604.986.3366 orToll-free: 1-800-663-3007 Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  16. Hi I have been separated for a year my husbands lawyer will file for divorce. Me and my ex do not have any contact and his lawyer has not contacted me other than for separation letter will I be mailed a divorce certificate as well. Please help me.

    1. Jayde, we are publishers, not a legal services agency. We are also not familiar with Quebec divorce proceedings, but when a divorce application is filed elsewhere in Canada, it is either \”uncontested\” (the two spouses agree on the key issues of spousal support, child support if applicable, and division of assets), or the divorce is \”contested\” in which case one spouse files for divorce without the agreement of the other and lawyers are usually then involved on both sides).If you have not signed court papers agreeing to a divorce, it is not likely that your husband's lawyer can obtain a divorce without your consent and agreement. You should seek advice where you live. Search on the web for \”Quebec legal aid\” to find an office near you. The Editors

  17. My wife and I had a shotgun wedding a few months ago and a month later she moved back to her home province. She's informed me that she has no plans to return to me. We've never lived together and never will. In your opinion, would our case qualify for an annulment or would it be best to file for divorce? Again, we've never lived together, so if we have to proceed with a divorce, what date would I have to file a separation for?

    Thank you.

    1. To get a divorce in Canada (the annulment of a marriage), you must prove the marriage has broken down. The three paths you can take are (1) Separation for a year, (2) Adultery, or (3) Cruelty.Reasons (2) and (3) normally are treated as \”contested\” and would require a lawyer.Separation is the easiest course of action if you both agree to it. One person files the paperwork; the other only needs to receive copies of the paperwork and not contest the action. There is no \”blame\” in this procedure – just acknowledgment that the marriage has broken down, leading to separation and reconciliation won't happen.. The drawback is that the divorce will not be granted until 12 months after the date of separation (though the paperwork can be commenced before that).If there is a child of the marriage, the issue of child support will have to be dealt with, as the courts will require it no matter how short the time that you actually lived together. Spousal support will also be addressed. Support issues will occur no matter which of the three approaches is taken to end the marriage. Richard Day

  18. Hi, we have been waiting for our divorce with ex for almost a year. We signed and agreed on all mutual demands, the file was in Calgary court for more than 3 months for review and as a result the judge rejected it. I'm very sad as I'm planning to remarry in the future. The clerk told me there were some mistakes from my ex's lawyer's side and as soon as they correct all mistakes the papers will be refiled right away. How long can it take to be divorced finally after refiling papers? Is it the same time of waiting for 3 months???

    1. Assuming the papers are correct when your spouse's lawyer files them the second time, the court will usually process them in a matter of weeks. The 3-month delay the first time was probably a combination of two things: (1) time to evaluate the significance of the errors, and (2) the first few months of each year are a particularly busy time for divorce courts. Richard Day

  19. i plan to get a divorce, my wife is in the philippines but she said she will not sign the divorce papers..what shall i do? if she contest it does she needs to get here?

    1. When you file for an uncontested divorce as a sole applicant the law requires that you arrange for the papers to be served on your spouse, that your spouse acknowledges receipt, and that you produce paperwork for the court from the process server attesting to the serving of the papers. Even then, your spouse has the legal right to “respond” to the papers served, and at that point you have a contested divorce.Our recommendation is that you talk to a lawyer who has experience with divorce cases where a spouse is no longer in Canada and may not accept service or may contest the service.Your spouse can contest the divorce without needing to return to Canada, first by responding to the documents served, and then possibly be retaining legal counsel in Canada to act for her.The key point: the only way to get an uncontested (“do it yourself”) divorce is if both spouses agree to divorce and agree to the minimum requirements of Canadian law which would include meeting federal requirements regarding spousal and (if applicable) child support. Richard Day

  20. I want to file for divorce after a two year separation. We were married in Manitoba but lived in Mexico for 17 years of marriage. He has been back in MB for the past two years. Can I file for divorce in Mexico (with a Canadian marriage certificate)? Will the MB court recognize a Mexican ruling on a Canadian marriage certificate?

    1. You could probably obtain a divorce in Mexico but it is somewhat unlikely that a Manitoba court would recognize the divorce if he chose to contest it. We suggest you contact your nearest Canadian consular office in Mexico and seek their advice, as they have probably seen similar situations and can give you insight into what might work for you. Richard Day

  21. hi my name is Toste and im end a 8 years relationship with 7 years legaly married . Not kids, no income or house to divide. my weeding btook place in Brazil. How could we do the divorce easy and fast.
    please help me.

  22. If there are no children, assets, or income to divide, you both want to get a divorce, and you have been living \”separate and apart\” for a year, the process is simple: get a Joint divorce kit (which you can find in our online shop), and follow the instructions to fill in and submit the paperwork. That is the least expensive way we know to do it. Richard Day

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