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If we were in a non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationship, how do we legally “separate”?

The word “separation” can get confusing. Lawyers, courts, and legal information materials all sometimes use this term to refer to both:

  • the first stage of separation (living “separate and apart”), and
  • the “official” separation (when Adult Interdependent Partners are legally considered “former Adult Interdependent Partners”).

There is no such thing as a “legal separation.” You do not need any special document to prove that you are “separated,” and there is no formal process. Instead, the start of the separation is usually when one Adult Interdependent Partner (AIP) tells the other that he or she wants to separate. The AIP being told about the separation does not have to “agree” to the separation.

However, in order to reach the point where your Adult Interdependent Relationship will be legally over, you must do more than just start the separation. Your AIR does not officially end until you become “former” Adult Interdependent Partners.

There are 5 ways to become a “former” Adult Interdependent Partner:

  1. Enter into a written agreement that states that the Adult Interdependent Partners intend to live separate and apart without the possibility of reconciliation. In this case, the AIR ends as soon as the agreement is signed.
  2. Live separate and apart for more than one year, without getting back together (“reconciling”) for a period of more than 90 days.
  3. One of the Adult Interdependent Partners becomes the Adult Interdependent Partner of someone else (you cannot have more than one Adult Interdependent Partner at a time).
  4. One of the Adult Interdependent Partners marries another person. In this case, the AIR ends upon the marriage.
  5. Get a Declaration of Irreconcilability.

You cannot become “former” Adult Interdependent Partners simply by moving out. This is important to understand, because as long as you are considered to be another person’s Adult Interdependent Partner, you continue to have all the rights and obligations of an Adult Interdependent Partner.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
Can my roommate and I make a cohabitation agreement, or is it for couples only?

A cohabitation agreement can be made between both romantic and non-romantic partners. Keep in mind that between non-romantic partners, there is still a difference between an agreement for people who are or will be living in a “relationship of interdependence” and an agreement for people who are just “sharing space.” Depending on whether you will be living in a “relationship of interdependence” (that is, with close ties to each other beyond sharing space) or just as roommates, the issues you will want to deal with in your agreement will be very different.

For example, two people who are roommates are likely not worried about financially supporting each other if one person moves out. As such, partner support is probably not an issue that will come up in their agreement. But, two people who live together in a “relationship of interdependence” might have concerns about partner support if they were to separate, so they may address this issue in their agreement. As such, the difference between a cohabitation agreement and a roommate agreement results from both the nature of the relationship and the different issues that are addressed in the agreement.

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Last Reviewed: October 2015
The other party and I agree on everything. Can we use the same lawyer to save on costs?

It depends. 

Some legal matters require the parties to get independent legal advice (for example: dividing matrimonial property). When a legal matter requires each party to receive independent legal advice, the parties may be able to “share” one lawyer for the majority of the time, but at some point, one of the parties will have to see a different lawyer to get independent legal advice.

Other times, independent legal advice is recommended, but not required. For example, a couple wanting to enter into a cohabitation agreement can do so without independent legal advice. In this case, you may use the same lawyer. However, independent legal advice is always strongly encouraged. This is because if one or more parties did not get independent legal advice before signing the agreement, a court may decide that the parties did not truly understand the contract when they signed it, and may “set aside” the agreement as a result.

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Last Reviewed: October 2015
If someone is being abused, why doesn’t she or he just leave?

Leaving an abusive relationship is a difficult process and there may be many reasons why someone will not be ready to leave the abusive relationship.

For example, the victim might:

  • not have any other family or friends to go to,
  • be scared that the abuser will hurt them if they try to leave,
  • believe the abuser will stop hurting them,
  • fear for the safety of his or her children or pets if they leave,
  • still hope that the abuser will change,
  • not understand that she or he is actually being abused,
  • think that she or he deserves the abuse,
  • think that the abuse is not that serious,
  • care about the abuser and not want the abuser to get charged,
  • not have any money of their own because the abuser controls the family finances, and/or
  • not know about services and places that can help victims of domestic violence.

Leaving an abusive relationship is also a dangerous process because the abuser might become angry if he or she finds out that the victim is leaving or planning to leave. 

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Last Reviewed: June 2017
We lived together before marriage. Does the Matrimonial Property Act apply to the property we bought before the marriage as well?

No. The Matrimonial Property Act (MPA) does not apply to property that you got before the marriage. Therefore, if you are resolving your property issues in court, the Court will use the rules that govern property division for non-married partners.

However, if you come to an agreement about how to divide your property, you can choose to apply the rules of the MPA to pre-marriage property, if you wish.

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Last Reviewed: October 2015
Can my lawyer fire me?

Technically, yes. However, a lawyer must have a good reason to fire his or her client, and he or she must give a reasonable amount of notice to the client so the client can find a new lawyer.

When a lawyer quits, it is called “withdrawing.” If a lawyer is withdrawing from a case, he or she should also notify the other party and the court (if the courts are involved) in addition to his or her own client. The lawyer should not withdraw at a critical time in the case, or in a way that puts his or her client in a disadvantaged place. Also, if a lawyer withdraws, he or she should try to keep the extra costs for the client to a minimum and do everything he or she reasonably can to help transfer over the file to the client’s new lawyer (if the client has one).

Keep in mind, it is fair for a lawyer to withdraw if there is good reason, but he or she cannot do it in a way that is damaging to the client. Also, a lawyer must tell you in writing if he or she is withdrawing from your case.

Generally, good cause for withdrawal can include:

  • a conflict of interest;
  • a serious loss of confidence between the lawyer and client;
  • a client fails to pay legal fees after reasonable notice; or
  • the lawyer no longer has the skills and expertise to handle a legal matter.

The Law Society of Alberta sets out many rules about what lawyers can do and how they must act. See the Law Society of Alberta’s website for more information about when a lawyer can fire his or her client.

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Last Reviewed: October 2015
I’ve heard that employers have a duty to accommodate pregnant employees. What is a “duty to accommodate”?

“Duty to accommodate” means that employers have a responsibility to make changes to rules or physical environments as needed to prevent discrimination. This is an important part of human rights law. It recognizes that sometimes it is necessary to treat someone differently in order to be fair. For example, changing a woman’s work schedule to allow breaks for breastfeeding.

The employer must make changes to the point of “undue hardship.” This means that the employer must make the changes unless the costs become so high or the disruption to business so great that it is not bearable. To claim undue hardship, the employer must provide evidence of the hardship.

Situations involving the duty to accommodate must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, according to the person’s needs. Accommodation involves communication and cooperation between you and your employer.

You can learn more about “duty to accommodate” and about human rights protections for pregnant women and parents from the Alberta Human Rights Commission website.

Last Reviewed: February 2017
Are there situations where the court does not have to follow the Child Support Guidelines?

In almost all cases, using the Child Support Guidelines is mandatory: there are very few cases when a court can depart from the Guidelines.

A few examples of situations where a court can choose to depart from the Guidelines (but it may not) include:

  • where there is an adult who “stood in the place of a parent” (also called “in loco parentis”);
  • where the children are now adults;
  • where the child’s living arrangements are split/shared equally between the parents;
  • where the payor’s income is greater than $150,000 per year; and
  • where there is undue hardship.
Last Reviewed: October 2015
What is co-decision-making?

Co-decision-making allows an adult to ask the Court to name one or more other people to help make personal decisions. Co-decision-making is intended for people who need more significant help when making personal decisions, even though they still have capacity. In other words, they now have more “bad” days than “good” days. The parties must all agree to the application. They apply to court together. Once an order is granted, they make decisions together.

Last Reviewed: April 2016
If I am responding to an application, can I choose which court I go to?

Not usually. If the other person started the application with one court, you usually must continue with that court. However, if your response also asks for something that is not in the jurisdiction of the first court, you will need to apply to the other court. For example, the Provincial Court cannot deal with property issues, so you would need to apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench to deal with property division.

Last Reviewed: October 2016
What’s legal aid? How can I find out if I qualify for legal aid?

If you have a low income, you may qualify for financial help to cover the cost of a lawyer and court fees through Legal Aid Alberta. Legal Aid Alberta offers many forms of help for low-income Albertans, including legal advice, help with preparing documents, and assistance from a lawyer for part or all of your legal issues.

Legal aid is not free. If you qualify for a Legal Aid lawyer, you will get discounted rates and will be able to pay your bill over time without interest.

Legal Aid Alberta follows guidelines to decide if someone is eligible for legal aid. You will have to go through an intake process with Legal Aid staff to find out if you are eligible. If you are not eligible for legal aid, the staff there will refer you to other community resources that may be able to help you.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
I’ve been taking care of my sister’s children for a few months. Am I eligible for any financial help?

You may be eligible for financial help from the Alberta government if:

  • you are providing care for a child who is not your own; and
  • you are not a kinship caregiver or foster parent.

You will need the parent’s consent to use this program. For more information, see the Child & Youth Support Program webpage.

Last Reviewed: November 2016
My cousin is in the hospital and is likely near death. The medical staff in the hospital asked me about organ donation. Can they do that?

Yes. When a person has died or is very close to death, that person, or the person’s loved ones, may be asked about donating some tissues or organs to help others.

In fact, medical staff are required to ask. This comes from section 7 of Alberta’s Human Tissue and Organ Donation Act. It says that the medical practitioner who makes the pronouncement of death must consider if the person’s tissue or organs are suitable for transplantation. And, the medical practitioner must document in the person’s medical record that this was done.

Ideally, the person would have thought about this issue in advance, and:

  • made his or her wish to donate known by signing the back of their Alberta health care card,
  • registered with the organ donor registry, and/or
  • included his or her wishes in a Personal Directive.

However, this is often not the case. If you are helping a loved one who did not plan ahead for this, you may be asked some questions about organ donation.

Last Reviewed: April 2016
Are religious marriage officiants allowed to refuse to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony because it goes against their religious beliefs?

Yes. Canada’s Civil Marriage Act allows religious marriage officiants to refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies if it goes against their religious beliefs.

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Last Reviewed: August 2016
What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a document that gives another person the power to make your financial decisions for you.

There are different kinds of Powers of Attorney:

  • An Immediate Power of Attorney takes effect immediately and ends at a specific date or after a certain decision has been made.
  • An Immediate and Enduring Power of Attorney takes effect immediately and continues if you become unable to make your own financial decisions.
  • An Enduring Power of Attorney (also called a “Springing Power of Attorney”) takes effect only when you become unable to make your own financial decisions.

A Power of Attorney does not cover personal or medical decisions. For that you need a Personal Directive.

Last Reviewed: April 2016