Moving in together is a big step in any relationship. For many young couples, living together is a way to test the relationship before marriage by helping couples discover any incompatibilities and learn about one another’s habits.
Practically speaking, there are many benefits to cohabitating with your partner. You can save costs by splitting bills, like rent and utilities. You may even be able to carpool for your commute. Living with your partner can also be a lot of fun.
While there are many benefits to moving in together, there are also important legal ramifications. Before taking this step, couples should communicate with one another about important topics including finances, lifestyle and children. Your thoughts on these topics may change over time, but ensuring you and your partner are on the same page when you’re starting out is a good start. You will also want to consider the following six ways your relationship can change from a legal perspective once you and your partner move in together in Ontario.
1. You become common-law spouses after 3 years.
After three years of living together, you and your partner will be considered spouses for the purposes of spousal support. This means that if your relationship ends, you may be eligible for or obligated to pay support, despite not being legally married. If you wish to avoid liability for support, it is possible to set this out from the time you decide to move in together, but creating a custom cohabitation agreement.
2. The situation can change if you become parents.
If you and your partner have children before or during the time you live together, you may be eligible for spousal support before the general three-year period mentioned above. When a couple shares children, they may be considered a spouse for the purposes of support once they are “in a relationship of some permanence.” You and your partner will also have an obligation to financially support your children, no matter the status or duration of the relationship. This means one partner may be eligible for both spousal and child support if the relationship ends.
3. You are entitled to what you put in a shared house.
When you and your partner start living together, you may both choose to contribute financially to the home you share. However, it’s important to know that if you break up with your partner and they own the home, you do not have the same legal protections that married couples have when it comes to property division, and there is no legal concept of a matrimonial home if a couple is not legally married. Generally, you will walk away with what you had when you first moved in and what you paid for while cohabitating. You are not entitled to any increase in the value of your partner’s assets, unlike a married couple.
Again, the rights with respect to the division of property and/or entitlements to the shared home can be augmented by creating a cohabitation agreement.
4. You may be entitled to a constructive trust in some cases.
When you start living together, you and your partner will decide how to split the household expenses. If one person makes significantly more money, they may pay a higher share of the expenses. Alternatively, one partner may help pay down the debt of the other. If you want to get repaid for these contributions should the relationship break down, it is wise to document these terms in a formal agreement.
There may be additional recourse in the form of a constructive trust. If a court determines that one person in the relationship was unjustly enriched by the contributions of another, the court can make an equitable decision to award damages. For example, if one person owns the shared home solely in their name, yet their spouse regularly contributes to the monthly mortgage payments, the non-owner spouse may have a valid claim for a portion of the increase in the home’s value over the course of the relationship.
5. You are not guaranteed property rights if your partner passes away without a will.
Many young people do not have wills. Dying without a will means there are legislative rules that determine how a person’s estate is distributed, which do not apply to a non-married spouse. If you or your partner dies and you are not married, you will have fewer legislative property protections. There are options for making a claim against the estate, but these options take time and expense, both of which could be avoided through better preparation.
While death may be a far-off thought for a young couple, it’s something every person should prepare for in the event the unexpected occurs. If you are planning on moving in with your partner, you should each take the time to create a will or review and potentially update your existing wills.
6. Every couple should consider a cohabitation agreement before they move in together.
A cohabitation agreement is a contract for partners when they are planning to live together without being married. The agreement states what happens if the couple separates, divorces or dies. The agreement can help a couple make their own arrangements outside of the legislative rules discussed above.
For example, your agreement may provide for spousal support if you break up before living together for three years. You may also define your own terms regarding property division, such as by setting out who is entitled to specific joint purchases once the relationship ends. However, you may not include decisions about parenting time and decision-making abilities regarding your existing or future children. These issues must be determined at the time of separation in order to properly consider the best interests of the child(ren).
For advice on Cohabitating with your Partner, Contact Bortolussi Family Law in Vaughan
If you have any questions about living with your partner, please contact the knowledgeable family lawyers at Bortolussi Family Law. Our primary focus is always on achieving your goals, addressing your concerns, and providing you with clarity and confidence. We will ensure your entitlements and rights are properly protected in a comprehensive cohabitation agreement. To discuss your matter with a member of our team, contact us by phone at 416-987-3300 or reach out online.