What is an involuntary separation?

30 January 2023 by National Bank
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When a couple are no longer able to live together for reasons beyond their control, such as illness, this may be classed as an involuntary separation. Should you find yourself in this situation, you might be able to receive certain benefits and tax credits.

What is involuntary separation?

Involuntary separation is a federal tax relief measure that can be used by spouses or common-law partners who are obliged to live apart. One member of the couple must be aged 65 or older, and the separation must be due to reasons outside the couple’s control.

Example: Due to an illness, your partner has to move to a specialized care facility.

As this separation is not by choice, the government may take your individual income—rather than your family income—into account when determining your eligibility for additional benefits.

Eligibility for these programs is often based on income. The lower your income, the more programs and credits you could be eligible for.

Example: Your family income of $50,000 is too high for you to receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). However, in the event of an involuntary separation, your family income is no longer taken into account. This means that if your individual income is below the maximum limit, you will be eligible to receive the GIS.

What are the criteria for declaring an involuntary separation?

In order to declare an involuntary separation, you must be physically separated from your spouse or partner. That is, no longer living under the same roof. Your separation must be due to reasons beyond your control, such as a serious loss of independence, and not due to a breakdown in your relationship.

An involuntary separation could occur when one spouse is absent due to:

  • Health reasons
  • Being incarcerated
  • Work
  • Studies

You must also:

Bear in mind that the federal government’s definition of a spouse or common-law partner may be different from the definition in your province or territory.

Good to know: If you and your partner start living together again under the same roof, this is the end of the involuntary separation. You are required to notify the relevant levels of government about this change.

What are the advantages of declaring an involuntary separation?

Involuntary separation may have an effect on three federal benefits:

  • The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). If you’re age 65 or older.
  • The Old Age Security (OAS) pension. If you’re age 65 or older.
  • The Allowance from the Government of Canada. If you’re age 60 to 64 (and your partner is 65 or older).

It has no impact on pension income splitting, the medical expense tax credit, or other tax credits for retired people. Unused credits can still be transferred to your spouse.

An involuntary separation may also enable you to claim other benefits in your province or territory of residence. In Quebec, for example, you might become eligible for the solidarity tax credit, or see the amount of your credit increase.

Before declaring an involuntary separation, make sure that it is financially advantageous for you to do so.

Changes to certain benefits may have an impact on others, so it’s important to get advice from an accountant or tax specialist.

How do you declare an involuntary separation?

To declare an involuntary separation, you need to contact Service Canada. You can do this by mail, by phone, in person or online.

You’ll need to fill out two forms:

Important: Don’t wait too long to inform the government about your involuntary separation. If you were involuntarily separated but didn’t notify the government, payments you were eligible to receive will only be paid going back 11 months.

How do you declare an involuntary separation in Quebec?

You must notify Revenu Québec of your change in situation as soon as it occurs (don’t wait until you file your next tax return!).

Although an involuntary separation often occurs in difficult circumstances, declaring this status can help make things a little easier for you and your spouse by enabling you to access certain benefits.

Would you like to discuss this with us? Contact your National Bank advisor or your wealth advisor at National Bank Financial. Don't have an advisor?

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