Separation and divorce
Getting back household items and personal belongings left in the home
Unless you reach an agreement with your ex, you can’t return to the family home whenever you want to retrieve any household items or personal belongings that you left behind or forgot. There is no time limit or special permission set out in the law allowing you to do so. Whether you’re married or de facto partners, only two options are available for you to get your belongings back: reach an agreement with your ex or apply to the court.
Reach an agreement
As a general rule, the simplest and fastest way to retrieve your household items and personal belongings is to reach an agreement with your ex.
If dialogue is difficult, you can send your ex a written request. This will allow you to specify your requests and keep a written record of them, which you can use if ever you have to go to court.
Your written request can be in the form of a letter, an email, or even a text message. In all cases, it must contain the following elements:
- A list of household items and belongings you would like to retrieve
- Proposed times to pick them up
(e.g., I can come to pick them up with Denise next Friday around 2:00 p.m. or on Saturday around 10:00 a.m.)
- A reasonable response time
(e.g., Please let me know when you’ll be available before February 3.)
If you manage to reach an agreement, it is again preferable to put it in writing. A written document will ensure that you have proof if the agreement is not respected.
When you go to pick up your belongings, it’s recommended that you bring a neutral person with you. This individual may be able to defuse any potential tension and could also serve as witness if you have to go to court.
Apply to the court
If you’re unable to reach an agreement, you still have options. However, the legal steps available aren’t the same for married couples and de facto partners.
The steps you take depend on what you want to accomplish.
- If all you want to do is retrieve your household items and personal belongings and bring them to your new home, you can ask a judge for a “safeguard order” to force your ex to return certain items by a specific deadline. In this case, the judge will first determine whether the household items and belongings you want to retrieve serve for the use of the family. Normally, household items and effects used by the family should remain in the family residence until there’s an agreement or a divorce judgment, regardless of who the owner is. A judge could therefore refuse to let you take your household appliances if they’re being used by the family. However, the judge might allow you to take your personal belongings, such as your clothes and other property that only you use, for example, your personal computer.
- If you want to retrieve your household items and personal belongings and return to live in the family residence, you can apply for a “Safeguard Order for Exclusive Use of the Family Residence and Movables”. This lets you ask the judge to allow you to keep both the property belonging to you and the property serving for the use of the family. If the judge grants this request, you can move back into the family residence and keep the designated household items. Your ex will have to move out but can still take his or her personal belongings when leaving.
In all cases, you can apply for a “safeguard order” at the same time as your “Divorce Application”. A decision on this type of application can be rendered quickly, within a few weeks or even a few days. This judgment will be temporary, however. Even if a judge allows you to use the household items at this stage of the process, your property may end up being divided differently at a later stage of your divorce.
De facto couples are entitled to retrieve all their property. However, the legal proceedings involved are sometimes complex and don’t always produce the desired results.
You can file what is called an “action in revendication” before the Superior Court of Québec to force your ex to return property to you. A judge will then determine who owns the property and order that it be returned to its owner. However, this application process is complex and may require the assistance of a lawyer. You will also need to prove that you’re the sole owner of the property being claimed by presenting a receipt or an invoice, for example. This proof is sometimes difficult to obtain.
If you’re unable to retrieve your property, you also have the option of claiming financial compensation for its value. This application must be filed with the Superior Court of Québec or the Civil Division of the Court of Québec. The Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec has also rendered judgments in similar disputes between de facto couples. The procedure in Small Claims is simpler, but the Court might refuse to render a decision in your case if it decides that you haven’t brought the matter before the right court.
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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