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Clarifying property rights with cohabitation agreements

On a number of occasions, we’ve discussed legal issues that are specific to common-law spouses in Canada. If you are in a common-law relationship, then you are not automatically given the same property rights as couples who are legally married. However, depending on the circumstances, property owned by one common-law spouse may be divided with the other if the relationship ends.

Whether or not common-law spouses have rights to certain items of property, including the home shared by the spouses, can be clarified with a cohabitation agreement. Such agreements can be drafted to detail exactly what property belongs to whom in the event of a breakup.

For a variety of reasons, many couples who have been together a long time choose not to marry. During the course of the relationship, assets, income and debts may become intermingled, especially if the parties have children together. A well-drafted cohabitation agreement can set out the rights and obligations of common-law spouses, and this kind of document may be used in court if a dispute arises.

Keep in mind, though, that a cohabitation agreement may include terms that one of the spouses failed to uphold. If that is the case, then the plan for property division may need to be reassessed to determine whether or not the agreement is still fair and valid.

As is often the case in a traditional divorce, a just result is not guaranteed when a common-law relationship ends. Common-law spouses with questions about their property rights are encouraged to seek answers from an Ontario family lawyer as soon as possible.

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