One of the first questions clients ask is, “How is property divided in Alberta?”  

The Alberta Family Property Act is used to analyze and distribute property when a partnership breaks down. The Act used to be called the Matrimonial Property Act (MPA), but the province revamped it last year. If you separated before January 2020, your divorce falls under the old Act. 

There’s one big difference in the new Act, which I’ll get into. Broadly though, the legislation dictates that debts and assets be divided equally between both spouses. 

The problem is, I see couples who assume “equal” means their financial settlement will be straightforward if both parties just take their own car, their own RRSPs, their own credit card debt, their own pension, etc. 

PLEASE DON’T DO THIS 

You may have kitchen table conversations about how you and your soon-to-be-ex will divide your family property. Maybe you’ve written some items on a scrap of paper, or even created an Excel sheet. You and your spouse are sick of fighting, so you glance at the numbers and say, “yeah, it’s basically a wash.” 

While this approach may avoid a fight in the moment, it doesn’t benefit anyone. 

I write about how I encourage the spirit of cooperation and “kitchen table” talks. However, they should not supersede the element of “fairness.” Couples only achieve fairness after both spouses have a thorough and precise knowledge and understanding of their joint assets, and individual assets. 

If spouses take the time to know the actual value of the items they discussed, they may find that the real numbers are not what they presumed. 

AN EXAMPLE 

Here’s an example of quick math for a fictional couple, Chris and Lee. It’s what they came up with during their kitchen table talk that makes them both tempted to call it a wash. 

 

Family Property  Chris  Lee 
RRSP’s  around… $30,000  around …. $40,000 
House value (530,000)  +$265,000  +$265000 
Mortgage ($490,000)  -$245,000  -$245,000 
Credit Cards  -$9,000  -$15000 
Sub total   Seems like a wash.  Seems like a wash. 
Equalization   0  0 
Presumed Final total   0  0 

 

WAIT, DON’T SIGN YET! 

But there’s some missing information. If these spouses had taken the time to collect exact financial details and done a proper equalization calculation, their property division would have looked more like this:

Family Property  Chris  Lee 
RRSP’s  +$30,000  +$43,000 
House value ($530,000)  +0  +$530,000 
Mortgage ($490,000)  -$0  -$490,000 
Credit Cards  -$9,000  -$15000 
Sub total   $21,000  $68,000 
Equalization payment  +$23,500  -$23,500 
Final total each is walking away with  +$44,500 

+$44,500 

Here’s the formula you should follow: 

Precise and accurate financial collection + spirit of cooperation = a fair settlement 

Not,  

Spirit of cooperation + let’s pretend that it’s a wash to avoid conflict = a tilted and unfair settlement. 

If you feel pressured to avoid a detailed financial disclosure, you are far more likely to feel resentful about your divorce long-term. 

IT’S NOW THE LAW 

Now don’t get me wrong, you might go through this whole exercise, and then decide that you still think no equalization payment is fair. You might decide that $23,500 paid as an equalization is not fair- $10,000 is, or even $50,000. But at least you know what the numbers say. 

During the TDS mediation process, spouses exchange their complete financial information. They take the time to understand their property division before they negotiate a fair settlement that works for each of them in the long run. 

At the end of the mediations, ex-spouses are usually glad that they reached their joint decisions after they each individually had full access to the other’s financial statements, and had time to understand the landscape of their family property. 

IT’S ABOUT KNOWLEDGE 

The importance of both parties being informed reminds me of the quote by Jane Porter. She says, “ Imparting knowledge is only lighting other men’s candles at our lamp- without depriving ourselves of any flame.” 

If I’ve convinced you to exchange financial disclosure, but you don’t know where to start, here’s an easy-to-follow printable list that you can even share with your ex-spouse. Once you each collect your information, please share it with one another, sit at the kitchen table, and plan your property split. And if you get stuck, call us. We can help you reach a fair settlement through mediation.