When it comes to the division of property in Ontario after a common law relationship comes to an end, many people believe that they benefit from the same legal rights as any married couple, especially when children are involved.
It’s true to say that legal rights pertaining to children will be the same as if you were married, however, the biggest difference between married and unmarried couples is that you’re not automatically entitled to make any claim to the property you’ve shared and possibly contributed to, nor do you have an automatic right to live in the home that you have resided in.
Firstly, you would need to be considered to be in a common law relationship according to the Family Law Act and then you would need to provide evidence to prove monetary or another contribution, such as your time, which significantly bettered the household and benefited your common law partner. You may also have a claim if you can establish that the manner in which you operated as a couple greatly prejudiced you while benefiting the other side; thereby entitling you to have an interest in their property.
The rules around this vary from province to province but in Ontario, this usually comes down to the length of the relationship and whether any children are involved. If there are no children involved, you are required to have lived together for at least three years before being deemed to be in a common law relationship and where there are children from the relationship, this time may be reduced to one year, although every case is different.
This is where the division of property becomes more complex in a common law relationship scenario as the responsibility falls upon the non-owner of the property to provide evidence of their contribution.
Most people in this situation will need to consult a lawyer to represent them in court as it becomes a matter of contract law as opposed to family law. If you feel as though you’ve made a valuable contribution, monetary or otherwise, over the course of the relationship, there are essentially two claims that you might be able to bring to court; unjust enrichment and constructive trust, both of which have different factors that need to be proved for the judge to make an award.
Whether you’re in a relationship and about to move into a property owned by your partner or, already in this situation and concerned about protecting your interests, there are ways in which you can be proactive and feasibly avoid the need for court should the worst happen.
Cohabitation Agreements can be drawn up by an experienced family lawyer, outlining how property should be divided if the relationship were to break down. Although this might seem like an awkward conversation at the time, once you and your partner have come to an understanding about where you both stand, it’s much less stressful to address it at the start of a relationship than it is when things may have become strained. You can get a sample cohabitation agreement but you will each need your own lawyer to advise on what your legal rights and obligations are under it for it to be legally binding in Ontario.
If you’re already going through the process of separation from a common law partner, the other arrangement that you could make is a Separation Agreement. As long as the parties are able to agree, a well drafted agreement sets out how the property is to be divided and can again save on time and money in going to court, but it is also enforceable by court should the need arise (again, so long as each party has made full financial disclosure and had independent lawyers acting for them).
If you want to understand how to best protect your assets or you need some help determining what you might be entitled to, contact our team today to book your free consultation with a member of our Family Law team.