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A child can decide who he or she wants to live with at age 12.


There is no magic age when a child is old enough to decide which parent they want to live with. Many courts begin considering children’s opinions by 12 years of age, but the weight given to the wishes of the child depends on various things, including the child’s age and maturity, and the specifics of the case.

If you are trying to come to an agreement on your own, you are free to incorporate the views of the child into your agreement. If you are in court, the judge may listen to the wishes of a child, if the judge feels that the child is mature enough to give his or her opinion. In general, the older the child is, the more weight the judge will put on the child's wishes. However, even if a child does provide an opinion, judges must make their decisions based on what is in the “best interests of the child.”

If you think your child needs their own lawyer to represent them and to advocate for their best interests, the Children’s Legal and Educational Resource Centre may be able to help for free, if your child is under 19 years old.

Last Reviewed: September 2016
A court has ordered me to pay child and spousal support. If I leave Alberta, I won’t have to pay.


Just because you leave the province does not mean that you won’t have to pay the support ordered by an Alberta court.

Alberta has “reciprocity agreements” with over 80 different jurisdictions, including all the Canadian provinces and territories, all of the U.S. states, and some other foreign countries. Under these reciprocity agreements, Alberta and these other jurisdictions (called “reciprocating jurisdictions”) will recognize and honour each other’s laws and orders about support.

Therefore, Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program can forward your court order for registration with the enforcement program in your jurisdiction.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
A non-Aboriginal person cannot live on-reserve if he or she separates from his or her Aboriginal partner/spouse.


Under the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, a married spouse or common-law partner who was living on-reserve has various property rights, including:

  • the right to the use of the on-reserve family property during the relationship;
  • the right to not have the on-reserve family home sold without your consent;
  • the right to apply for an Emergency Protection Order in order to be able to stay in the on-reserve family home, if there is family violence and a need for immediate protection;
  • the right to stay in the on-reserve family home for 180 days after the death of your partner/spouse;
  • the right to apply for an Exclusive Occupation Order for the on-reserve family home upon relationship breakdown or the death of your partner/spouse; and
  • the right to a share of the value of on-reserve family property upon relationship breakdown or the death of your partner/spouse.

A partner living on-reserve has all of these rights, even if he or she isn’t Aboriginal, does not have registered Indian status with the Government of Canada, or does not have status for that particular reserve.

Related Information Pages:
Last Reviewed: October 2015
A protective order will protect me permanently from the abuser.


Each protective order is different, and a judge can choose how long each order is in place based on the situation. If a protective order is given without notice to the respondent, then it will likely only be in place for a few days until a review hearing, so that the respondent can have a say in what happens long-term.

Also, some protective orders have a maximum amount of time that they can be ordered (but most can be extended if needed).

  • Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs) under the Protection Against Family Violence Act are only in place for up to 9 working days before a review hearing. At the review hearing, the EPO may be extended, replaced with another protective order, or cancelled.
  • On-reserve Emergency Protection Orders under the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act are in place for up to 90 days, but may be extended at the end of that time if needed.
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders (QBPOs) are granted for up to one year. At the end of that time, the claimant can go back to court to request that the QBPO be extended for further one-year periods if needed.
  • Restraining orders are granted for different periods of time: some are granted for a few months, while others may be granted for much longer periods of time, or even permanently. Restraining orders can be extended if needed.
  • Peace bonds may be in place for up to one year. Peace bonds are not extended: instead a completely new application will need to be made, with new evidence to support it. Therefore, “extending” a peace bond is actually just replacing the expired peace bond with a new one.
  • No contact orders may be in place until the accused person’s trial is over, and if the abuser is found guilty at the trial, a no contact order may be included as part of his or her sentence. They can be extended.
  • Bail conditions may be in place until the accused person’s trial is over.
Last Reviewed: October 2015
A safety plan will only put me and my children in more danger.


If you are in an abusive relationship, making a safety plan is a good idea. It can help you to prepare yourself to leave, and to protect you from further danger. By having a safety plan, you will have what you need to stay as safe as possible.

It is important to make sure that the children know and understand your safety plan as well. However, dealing with children can be tricky and complicated. For example, you won’t want them to accidentally tell the abusive parent about the safety planning. Some organizations suggest using neutral phrases. You could say, “we want to prepare for an emergency” rather than “we are preparing for what to do if Dad becomes violent.”

Many organizations suggest going to professionals who have experience safety planning with children. They can help with the safety planning process. They will have ideas about how to bring it up with the children. And they can guide you in actually coming up with a safety plan.

One reason why some people worry about making a safety plan is because they are afraid that the abuser will find it. The abuser might become more angry and dangerous if they find out that the victim is planning to leave. You may feel that there is no safe place inside your home to hide your safety plan. Maybe you could leave it with someone you trust, such as a family member, friend, or coworker. This person can keep it in a safe place for you. Whenever you need to review your safety plan, you will know where to go to look it over.

For more information about services and support, you can contact the Family Violence Info Line. Their toll-free phone number is 310-1818, and they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in more than 170 languages.

Last Reviewed: May 2017
A wife must take her husband’s last name after they get married.

False. In Alberta, you are not required to change your name when you get married.

However, often spouses prefer to have a matching surname (last name) and sometimes choose to change their children’s names as well.

After you get married, you can choose to keep your name, take on your spouse’s name, or create a new surname (usually by combining your surnames with a hyphen or a space). For example:

  • Jaime Smith and Alex Lee got married.
  • Their new surname could be Smith, Lee, Smith-Lee, Lee-Smith, Smith Lee, or Lee Smith.
Related Information Pages:
Last Reviewed: August 2016
After we get married, we each automatically own 50% of the property.

Not necessarily.

When you are married, you can each have property that is your own. That is, it can be in your own name and you may be able to deal with it on your own.

However, If you separate, ownership can become a question in the division of property. In this case, the general rule is that each spouse is entitled to half of the property they got while they were married. It doesn’t matter whose name it is in or who paid for it. This is known as “matrimonial property.” Generally, the property you owned before you got married remains yours. However, there are exceptions and circumstances that can affect this starting point. Division of property can become very complicated.

Last Reviewed: August 2016
All common-law relationships are treated the same everywhere in Canada.

This depends on what you mean when you say “common-law.” 

When romantic partners live together, the exact “label” that is used, as well as any rights and responsibilities that come from living together, are defined differently by different governments. 

The federal government uses the term “common-law,” and federal rights and responsibilities (in other words, for things related to the government of Canada, such as income tax) start after living together for 1 year. Federal laws apply to all Canadians, including Albertans.

The term “common-law” may also be used in other provinces and territories to refer to couples who live together. But different provinces and territories (also called “jurisdictions”) use different terms. For example: “civil union” or “domestic partnership.” The rights and responsibilities that come with the label can also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Finally, the amount of time required to get these rights and responsibilities also varies across the provinces: sometimes, jurisdictions require 1 year of cohabitation, others 2 years, and some even 3 years. The laws of a particular province or territory apply only in that province or territory.

Alberta law does not use the term or the concept of “common-law.” Instead, it uses the term and concept of an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR), and this only applies for Alberta law. The concept if an AIR is different from what the federal government calls “common-law” and other kinds of non-married relationships in other provinces and territories.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
All parents are automatically guardians of their child.


Under Alberta law, the starting point is that parents (biological or adoptive) have a legal right to guardianship of their children.

However, being a biological parent is not always enough to be considered a guardian. The Family Law Act says that a parent of a child is a guardian of the child if the parent:

  • has acknowledged that he or she is a parent of the child; and
  • has shown an intention to be a guardian within one year of becoming aware of the pregnancy, or becoming aware of the birth of the child (whichever is earlier).

In other words, in addition to being a biological parent, you have to have shown that you want to be a guardian. For example, let’s say you are the biological parent of a six-year-old. However, you have had nothing to do with the child since before birth. Your claim to guardianship is not very strong.

Also, if a child is born as a result of a sexual assault, the biological father is not a guardian.

Last Reviewed: December 2016
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is always better than going to court.


In cases of very high conflict or when there is an imbalance of emotional power or financial power, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may not be a good option. Also, in cases of domestic violence, ADR can do more harm to the victim than good.

It is important to remember that a person’s reasons for not wanting to participate in ADR are just as valid as those of the person who wants to participate, and that ADR processes don’t work if people feel forced or pressured to participate.

Going to court is a good idea if:

  • you and the other party really can't agree about how to resolve your issues;
  • the other party is abusive;
  • you feel you don't have much power in the relationship;
  • the other party refuses to communicate with you; or
  • the other party is refusing to give you details about their finances.
Last Reviewed: October 2015
Arranged marriage is not allowed in Canada.


In an arranged marriage, family members or friends select a possible partner for their adult child intending for them to get married. However, both possible partners in this arrangement have the right to choose whether or not they want to marry the recommended person. As long as there is consent from both people in the relationship, the marriage is allowed in Canada.

Related Information Pages:
Last Reviewed: August 2016
As long as we have a written contract, I can use someone else’s sperm or eggs even if they change their mind.


The person can take back (withdraw) their consent. If they do, you will not be allowed to use the sperm or eggs.

However, to withdraw consent, the person must inform you in writing before a certain time. The deadline for withdrawing consent is different depending on whether:

  • the person is your spouse or common-law partner and you were going to make a baby together; or
  • the person is a donor.

Your spouse or common-law partner can withdraw consent up until you have used the reproductive materials for its intended purpose.

A donor can withdraw their consent up until the reproductive materials have been assigned for your use (for example, you ordered them from a clinic). If the donor withdraws their consent in writing before this time, you cannot use their reproductive materials. This is true even if you have a contract that says that you can.

Be Aware

Once you have created an in vitro embryo (outside the body), there are additional consent requirements that you must meet.

Last Reviewed: March 2017
Asking to mediate or taking part in any form of alternative dispute resolution is a sign of weakness.


There is no single “right way” to solve a dispute; parties should do what works best for them and their situation. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is just as valid a way to solve a problem as going to court. It is also important to understand that mediation (and other forms of ADR) actually take a great deal of strength: it requires in-depth discussions and complete honesty. In many ways, it would be much easier to simply hand over all of the decision-making power to a judge.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
Because I am the guardian of my children, I have the right to make all decisions about them until they are adults.

Not necessarily.

Alberta’s Family Law Act describes the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities you have as the guardian of a child. It says that a guardian must respect the developing capacity of children as they grow up. This means that, in normal circumstances, as children grow and mature, they should get to have some say in decisions that affect them. Eventually they get the legal power to make decisions themselves.

Some laws specifically allow children to make decisions. For example, once a child is 12 years old, they have the right to consent (or refuse to consent) to:

  • an application to change the child’s legal name; or
  • an application to adopt the child.

However, even in such situations, the court still has the power to decide that a child’s consent is not needed.

The concept that children can have a say in decisions that affect them is not just determined by age. It is also affected by the intelligence and maturity of the child. For example, as children mature, they often take a more active role in decisions that affect their bodies, such as decisions about medical treatment. Sometimes the courts have been asked to rule on whether a child has the right to make a medical decision.

Last Reviewed: February 2017
Being “common-law” and being in an “Adult Interdependent Relationship” is the same thing.


For many people, the term “common-law” is used to describe a couple that have been living together in a romantic relationship but are not married. In many provinces, and for income tax purposes, people are “common-law” after living together for one year. In some provinces, the required time is two years.

Alberta has stopped using the term “common-law” and instead uses the term “Adult Interdependent Relationship” (AIR). The concept of an AIR can also refer to certain relationships that are not romantic.

A person is in an Adult Interdependent Relationship if he or she has been living with and in a “relationship of interdependence” with another person:

  • for 3 years; or
  • for less than 3 years if they have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement; or
  • for less than 3 years if they have a child together (by birth or adoption).

A “relationship of interdependence” is a relationship where the partners:

  • share one another’s lives;
  • are emotionally committed to one another; and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.
Last Reviewed: October 2015