When a married or common-law couple chooses to end their relationship, property division laws determine how assets will be divided following a breakup or divorce.
Both debts and assets may be split up between a couple, and the rules for married and common-law couples are different. The division of assets for married couples is based on the Family Law Act. According to this law, assets that are brought into a marriage will stay with the person they belong to, but any increase in value is to be divided between the separating individuals. The exception to this is when someone receives a gift, such as an inheritance, during the course of the marriage, and this property does not count towards someone’s increase in assets. An equalization payment may be required to even out the differences between each person’s increase in Net Family Property.
For common-law couples, there is no requirement to divide assets based on the increase in value of each individual’s assets over the course of the relationship. In addition to whatever assets someone brought into the relationship, they are able to keep any property obtained during this time as well. The exception to this is when a couple has a joint debt or both individuals have their name on a piece of property. For this reason, it is recommended that people keep track of receipts and ownership paperwork.
Property division can be a contentious issue since how assets are divided can have a large effect on someone’s future. A lawyer may be able to assist someone ending a relationship or going through a divorce to understand what assets they are able to retain and what property may end up being divided with a partner or spouse.
Source: CLEO, “Separation and Divorce or Death of a Spouse: Property Division“, September 11, 2014