Family Law

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If you live with someone without being married, people say you are in a common law relationship or are cohabiting.

Property

Common law couples do not have the same rights as married couples to share the property they bought when they were living together. Usually, furniture, household belongings and other property belong to the person who bought them. Common law couples also do not have the right to divide between them the increase in value of the property they brought with them to the relationship.

If you have contributed to property your spouse owns, you may have a right to part of it. Unless your spouse agrees to pay you back through negotiation, mediation, collaborative law or arbitration, you may have to go to court to get back your contribution.

Support

If your common law relationship ends, and you do not have enough money to support yourself, you can ask your spouse to pay support. You can ask for support for yourself if you have been living together for three years, or if you have lived together for less time and have had or adopted a child together. You and your spouse can settle on an amount for support through negotiation, mediation, collaborative law or arbitration. If you can’t resolve the issues, you can go to court and ask a judge to decide if you should get support.

If you and your spouse have or adopt a child together, you can ask for support for that child. Children of parents living in a common law relationship have the same rights to support from their parents as the children of married couples. If your spouse treated your child as their child while you lived together, you can also ask for support. You can settle on support for your child through negotiation, mediation, collaborative law or arbitration. If you can’t resolve the issues, you can go to court and ask a judge to order your spouse to pay support for that child. The amount of support is set under the Child Support Guidelines.

As part of a support order for you or your child, you may also ask to stay in the home you shared when you lived together. The judge can order this even if you do not own the home, or if your name is not on the lease. This is different than for married couples. Married couples automatically have an equal right to stay in the home.

If you do not get support, you do not have the right to stay in the home if it is not yours.

Cohabitation Agreements

Couples in a common law relationship can sign a cohabitation agreement to protect their rights.

A cohabitation agreement can spell out what you both want your financial and family arrangements to be. It can say who owns the things you buy while you are living together. It can say how much support will be paid if the relationship ends and how your property will be divided. It can say who has to move out of the home if the relationship ends.

It cannot say who will have custody of, or access to, your children if your relationship ends. You cannot decide this before the relationship is over.

Both of you must sign a cohabitation agreement in front of a witness for it to be legal. The witness must also sign the agreement. Once you have signed a cohabitation agreement, you must follow what it says. If one of you decides you don’t like the agreement, you can negotiate a change to the agreement. Any change must also be in writing and signed in front of a witness. If you cannot agree, and you have now separated, you have to go to court and ask a judge to decide the issues between you.

You should each speak to a different lawyer and exchange financial information before signing a cohabitation agreement.

We are living together and don’t have a cohabitation agreement. What will happen to the things we own and our savings if one of us dies?

If you die without having a will which says exactly what you want to have happen to your property, your property will go to your blood relatives – for instance, your children, your parents or your brothers and sisters. To claim part of your property, your common law spouse will have to go to court to prove that he or she helped to pay for it. This takes time and is expensive. For these reasons, people living in a common law relationship should each have a will that says to whom they want their property to go if one of them dies.

When we moved in together, we went to lawyers and signed a cohabitation agreement. We’ve decided to get married. What happens to our cohabitation agreement?

When you get married, your cohabitation agreement becomes your marriage contract. If you both want to change it, you can sign a new agreement.