Common law relationships are nothing new, but it appears that more unmarried couples are making the decision to move in together. According to Statistics Canada, 394,670 common law couples resided in Ontario in 2011, and that number increased 5.5 percentage points from 2006.
There are several reasons why unwed couples make the decision to live together. In an article for The New York Times, writer Anna Goldfarb highlights some of the most common driving factors behind a couple’s decision to adopt the same address:
“It’s clear why couples find cohabitation so appealing. Aside from the convenience it affords, the prospect of splitting rent and utility bills is too seductive to pass up. Add in a desire to shed roommates and a reluctance to renew a pricey lease, and you can see why plenty of couples choose cohabitation, even if they aren’t exactly sure what comes next.”
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But, as she hints in that last sentence, living with your partner is not always as fun or easy as one might think. After moving in with her boyfriend, Goldfarb admits that she was too focused on simply moving in, and completely neglected to consider what would happen if her relationship “went down in flames.” She and her partner never discussed who would stay in the condo, who would take possession of the car they leased together, or who would get to keep the cat.
Fortunately, she quickly realized that it was important to have these difficult conversations with her boyfriend, and we would encourage you to do the same before you agree to move in with your partner. Furthermore, it is a good idea to consider the following points to ensure there are as few surprises as possible during the relationship, and as few fights as possible should the relationship end.
Make sure you are both on the same page
Have you and your partner actually talked about why you want to live together? And do you both have the same expectations? Many couples assume they are on the same page before they move in together, only to learn that there are a lot of things they didn’t consider. How are chores going to be divided? If one of you already owns a vehicle, is the other person expected to help with payments?
On that note, it’s also wise to discuss finances. Do your spending habits match? Is one of you making significantly more than the other? Is it fair for all costs to be divided equally? How much debt is each person carrying? The longer couples are living together, the more important this will be because in Ontario, one partner may qualify for spousal support after parties have cohabited for three or more years, or if they have a child together and a relationship of some permanence exists.
Understand your rights as a common law partner
Couples are legally considered common law under the Family Law Act after three years of living together, but many people are surprised to learn that if their relationship ends after this time, they do not have an automatic right to their ex’s assets like married couples do. Furthermore, parties are not automatically reimbursed for money that they invested into the relationship (for example, there would be no automatic requirement for one party to pay the other if he or she made some of the mortgage payments but did not hold title to the home) unless there was a cohabitation agreement already in place.
Understanding what can and cannot happen should the relationship end is very important so that couples can plan and make fair decisions about what will happen if they cannot live together anymore.
Create a cohabitation agreement
It’s highly recommended that couples who intend to live together long-term create a cohabitation agreement. This domestic contract can be useful even if both parties are renting their condo unit or home. A cohabitation agreement can be signed at any point during the relationship, and it can be revised if necessarily. Much like a marriage contract, a cohabitation agreement dictates how thing like joint property and other assets, pets, debt, and spousal support obligations will be dealt with should the relationship end. This also provides parties with an opportunity to protect important assets that belong solely to them. While common law partners don’t automatically divide property evenly, a party can request that he or she receive a share of their ex’s assets.
Don’t forget to include a provision that allows you and your partner to reassess the contract. It you both decide that the agreement no longer represents what you want from the contract, you can change it.
Finally, we would always recommend that each party seek independent legal advice before signing a cohabitation agreement. A family lawyer can help you understand what you’re agreeing to, and explain the implications of signing the agreement.
Do you have more questions about common law relationships? Give us a call; one of our family lawyers will be happy to meet with you.