Common Law Relationships

Family law: The challenges of common-law relationships

Throughout Canada, including in Alberta, the number of marriages are said to be declining. Conversely, more and more couples choose to cohabitate. While common-law relationships are accepted under family law, some differences exist that may affect the way the law treats a breakup. When a common-law relationship ends, each person keeps the property he or she owned before the relationship, and this can become complicated, especially when commingling had occurred.

For that reason, advisors recommend common-law couples sign cohabitation agreements, which are similar to marriage contracts. Although parties can include anything in such an agreement, even things like how household chores will be shared, certain issues may need special attention. Because money disputes are blamed for the majority of breakups, it may be wise to start with drafting a financial plan that will show the objectives and goals of both partners and will include a budget prepared with those intentions in mind.

While doing that, the time may be right to discuss how obligations like bills and rent will be handled. Should resources be pooled to cover household expenses, or will each partner have specific responsibilities? How will the purchasing of big-ticket items such as furniture and appliances be paid — considering that there is no equalised property sharing in the event of a common-law breakup? Will they divide the expenses and keep a record of who paid for what, or will they include a method of division in their cohabitation agreement that will be effective if the relationship ends?

Then there is the issue of debt that can be the downfall of any relationship if not handled with care. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to the question of keeping debt separate or joined; however, the important thing is to discuss it, agree on how to handle it, and make sure no debts are concealed. Some Alberta residents who consider moving in with common-law spouses choose to seek the guidance of an experienced family law lawyer who can explain their rights and provide valuable advice and input when drafting cohabitation agreements.

Source: Huffington Post Canada, “Common Risks for Common-Law Relationships“, Ashley Redmond, July 4, 2017

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