Q: I have been legally separated since 1999. The children are aged 27, 31, 33 so no custody or child support issues. All common assets were divided in 1999. We have lived completely separate lives with no money exchanging since child support ended. What is the simplest way to file for divorce? I have no marriage plans but I just want this finished.
— Lynne in Ontario
A: As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. I have had many clients enter my office and say, “I am so excited. I just quickly filed for divorce and it came through on my birthday.” Unfortunately, the questions they were too much in a rush to ask prior to filing the paperwork for divorce may have caused them negative financial consequences in Ontario.
In Ontario, there are no legal grounds required to file for a divorce. And a divorce can be granted one year from the declared date of separation.
Still, there are a few things that you should understand from a financial point of view, prior to filing for a divorce.
First, understand that the separation agreement deals with all things financial, including division of property and financial support. It doesn’t deal with actual divorce.
Divorce, by definition, is the annulment of the marriage, and all the rights and privileges that is inferred under matrimonial law. Some of these privileges might include financial benefits such as extended health care benefits, or life insurance, as well as specific rights set out in a Will. A divorce makes all of these things null and void for the ex–spouse. So while filing the final divorce papers may give you a sense of completion and closure, it pays to ensure you are not disadvantaging yourself financially in any way.
In regards to filing the correct papers, you can do that yourself, or engage a paralegal to help you. The process itself is simple—just make sure you have all the correct paperwork to accompany the application. Still, it’s always good to check with your lawyer before moving forward and filing the divorce paperwork. It may save you from some unexpected financial surprises down the road.
And finally, it may also be of benefit to check out if you’ve completed a Canada Pension Plan (CPP) credit split of pension credits, since being granted a divorce can also affect this. I recently, had a client who wanted to divorce her husband. She decided in the end that he was of ill health, and since they had their differences, she would simply remove herself from a toxic situation. She moved into an apartment nearby, but continued to look after him and on a daily basis, occasionally retreating to her own apartment for some peace and quiet.
Not too long after, he passed away. When she came to my office after his passing, she told me this. “My husband never shared any finances with me. So for the first time in my life, I am receiving some financial benefit from him—I am getting the survivor CPP benefit. Thank you for advising me not to file for divorce.” The lesson? Make sure you understand all the financial and legal ramifications of getting a final divorce before you file for one. This is one of those times when a cool head and some patience may easily win over a quick, thoughtless divorce.
Debbie Hartzmann is a certified divorce financial analyst and holds the following designations: CFP, CLU, CDFA.TEP, RRC and CEA