The short answer is yes, you can. Ninety percent of divorces in Canada do not need a lawyer — the couple divorcing do not have a complicated financial situation and agree that they want their marriage to end.
The legal requirements for a divorce are regulated by the federal Divorce Act of 1986; the process varies a little between provinces because of variations in the way provincial courts handle the steps.
Do You Really Want to Divorce?
This should always be your first question. There may be alternatives. Here in no special order are four:
- A period of separation may give both of you a better perspective on your relationship and issues.
- Marriage counsellors can and do help couple to identify and resolve issues, even when those issues sometimes seem impossible to fix.
- Parenting classes can be very helpful if the introduction of children into the marriage is part of the stress.
- Having a frank and open discussion with a money counsellor may be a better solution than splitting up.
If none of those options feels right, or you have "been there, tried that" and it didn't work, here is what you need to know about doing your own divorce.
Reasons for Divorce
The only reason a court will grant a divorce in Canada is breakdown of the marriage. There are three reasons for breakdown in the Divorce Act:
- Separation: you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year.
- Adultery: you are claiming a divorce against your spouse because your spouse has had a volutary sexual relationship outside your marriage.
- Cruelty: Your spouse has committed acts of physical or mental cruelty on you.
Of the three reasons above, only separation should be used in a do-it-yourself divorce.
If adultery or cruelty is the reason you want a divorce, you should seek legal help. The same applies to spousal desertion. Cruelty, adultery, and desertion almost always result in legal conflict and you need a lawyer to help with such claims.
If you and your spouse mutually agree to live separate and apart for a year, you have the first step towards doing your own divorce application.
A separation agreement is a form of contract between you and your spouse. In it, the two of you reach a written agreement on the basic terms of your divorce. While a separation agreement is not an essential part of a do-it-yourself divorce, it can be very helpful in two ways:
- Working through the terms of a well-constructed separation agreement will make you and your spouse focus on the things the law requires you to agree upon for an uncontested divorce. If you cannot agree on the terms, counseling or the help of a lawyer will be needed.
- Presenting a proper separation agreement to the court during your divorce application helps reinforce to the court that you and your spouse have addressed the terms of the Divorce Act and agreed to abide by them.
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