Cohabitation Agreements

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I am in a serious, committed relationship and have been living with my partner for 5 years now. I am uncertain if we will ever marry because neither one of us really believe it’s something that we want. Friends of ours were asking us if we had ever thought about a cohabitation agreement given our living situation. We had never heard of such an agreement, what is it all about?

Many couples today choose to live together in long-term and committed relationships without marrying. What some couples do not understand is that the law treats married and unmarried, or common-law, spouses very differently. It is important to understand these differences and how they will affect a person’s rights to property, support payments or a partner’s estate.

Some key things to remember: in Ontario, property is not automatically divided between unmarried couples if a relationship ends; unmarried spouses may have a spousal support obligation, but only if they have a child together or if they have been living together for at least three years; and only married spouses automatically have a right to share in a spouse’s estate if that spouse dies without a will, no matter how long a couple has been in a relationship or whether they have children together.

In order to protect yourself and your partner, unmarried couples are permitted to negotiate a contract–a cohabitation agreement–that lets them agree on certain rights and obligations in the relationship. A cohabitation agreement gives couples a great opportunity to carefully consider each other’s financial situation now and in the future, and decide together how they wish to share property, pay (or not pay) support to a partner in the event of a break-up, and what happens to the estate upon the death of a partner.

It is important to plan ahead, be aware of your rights, and know what will happen if a relationship ends by choice or in the event of a death. The good news is that it’s never too late to draft a cohabitation agreement, whether you are considering moving in together, or whether you have been living together for a short or long period already. Many couples worry that having a conversation about a cohabitation agreement will be difficult and distasteful, but having these discussions now can lead to thoughtful and caring discussions about the future.

It is also important to remember that in order to have legal effect, these agreements need to have clear terms that are understood by, and achieve the intentions of, each person. This is why it is critical to have a qualified family lawyer assist in the preparation of a cohabitation agreement.