An Overview of Cohabitation Agreements in Ontario

A cohabitation agreement is a written agreement between two people in a common law relationship to protect their respective rights within the context of their relationship.  It is important to note that couples who are married can sign a similar agreement, but it is called a marriage agreement. Similarly, if you sign a cohabitation agreement and then get married, your cohabitation agreement automatically becomes your marriage agreement.

Our Richmond Hill Family and Divorce Lawyers can provide you with an overview of cohabitation agreements in Ontario and help you determined whether a cohabitation agreement is right for you.

What rights can be addressed in a cohabitation agreement? 

A cohabitation agreement can be as specific or as general as you need it to be to meet your particular situation. It can address how you and your spouse intend your family to function during your relationship and it can address how you will deal with the end of the relationship. The end of a relationship does not just mean a separation; the death of either spouse also brings an end to the relationship.

The two most common issues addressed in a cohabitation agreement are:

  • how property will be divided, and
  • spousal support

in the event of a separation.

Child custody and access issues cannot be addressed in a cohabitation agreement, although they can be determined by agreement between the parties after you separate. This document is called a separation agreement.

How can a cohabitation agreement protect you and your family?

Unmarried couples are not subject to many of the legal protections that apply to married couples, including:

  • the division of family property regime set out in the Family Law Act
  • the division of property regime that applies if an unmarried spouse dies intestate, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act.

A cohabitation agreement can be used to “opt in” to any legal regime that does not apply to you due to your marital status.

A cohabitation agreement can save you time, money and frustration in the event of a separation.

How to obtain a cohabitation agreement

To be valid your cohabitation agreement must:

  • be in writing and be dated
  • be signed by both spouses
  • be witnessed and signed by the witness.

While it is not mandatory to have a lawyer draft your cohabitation agreement, it is ideal. Your family lawyer has had to address many of the common (and uncommon) problems that spouses face when going through a separation and is prepared to help you avoid them.

Even if you decide to prepare your cohabitation agreement yourself, it is highly recommended that you and your spouse each obtain independent legal advice before you sign it. This means that you each take the proposed agreement to your own lawyer for advice. Without independent legal advice, the court is less likely to enforce the agreement.

What if your situation changes? 

As your life progresses, you may find that an agreement that once served the interests of both you and your spouse no longer does so. You and your spouse can change or cancel your agreement at any time as long as you agree to the change. The changes must be put in writing, signed, dated and witnessed, similarly to the original agreement.

Book a Consultation With Our Richmond Hill Family and Divorce Lawyers

Our family law professionals can help you to understand how this overview of cohabitation agreements in Ontario applies to your circumstances. Book a consultation with our Richmond Hill family lawyers today!

*Disclaimer: Please note the content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice. For specific legal guidance on cohabitation agreements in Ontario we encourage you to speak with a family lawyer.