What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

a couple arguing in mediation about their cohabitation agreement

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We’ve discussed marriage agreements here on the Legal Wire Blog before, but you may not know that similar legal documents exist for couples that aren’t yet married or don’t plan on getting married. This kind of document is called a cohabitation agreement, and it can serve many different purposes.

a common-law couple in their apartment together

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that outlines the property, savings, and debt of both you and your partner. This document creates a plan for what happens if you separate from your partner, and makes it clear who gets what.

If you are cohabitating, or if you are in a common-law relationship, you are automatically subjected to certain rules regarding your property. By default, property you obtain during the course of your relationship is shared 50/50, whereas property that you obtained before your relationship only belongs to you – the same goes for your partner and their property.

You can also use a cohabitation agreement to outline how you and your partner will handle other situations, should they arise.

A key aspect of these agreements is that you must live with your partner in order to create a legally valid cohabitation agreement. It doesn’t matter who your partner is, what genders you or your partner identify as, or whether or not you plan to get married one day. If you live with someone else and share expenses, you could potentially benefit from a cohabitation agreement.

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding in B.C. If you already have one and you wish to change it, you and your partner will need to create a modification to your agreement, which is often quite complicated.

a couple signing a cohabitation agreement at their family lawyer's office

When to Make a Cohabitation Agreement

There are many different scenarios where a cohabitation agreement may be beneficial to you. If you fall into any of these categories, you should certainly consider creating one:

  • Unmarried couples: If you are in a long-term committed relationship but are not married or planning to get married, it can help establish rights and responsibilities regarding property, finances, debts, and other matters. It can provide clarity and protect both partners in case the relationship ends or unexpected circumstances arise.
  • Property ownership: If you and your partner own or plan to purchase property together, such as a house or a condominium, a cohabitation agreement can outline the ownership structure, financial contributions, and how property division would occur if the relationship ends. This can help avoid disputes and provide a clear framework for resolving potential conflicts.
  • Financial matters: A cohabitation agreement can address financial aspects such as shared expenses, bank accounts, and debt obligations. It can specify how income, assets, and debts are shared or managed during the relationship and in the event of separation, helping to minimize disputes and confusion.
  • Support and maintenance: If one partner has significant financial assets or income while the other partner has less financial means, a cohabitation agreement can address matters related to spousal support or financial assistance in case the relationship ends. This can help ensure fairness and address potential imbalances.
  • Children and parenting: If you have children together or plan to have children while cohabiting, an agreement can establish provisions related to custody, parenting arrangements, child support, and other child-related matters. It can provide a framework for decision-making and protect the best interests of the children involved.

How to Create a Cohabitation Agreement

Before you start drafting your cohabitation agreement, you and your partner will need to take some time to make a list of all the important things you own.

This can include:

  • Physical assets, like furniture, cars, memorabilia, etc.
  • Savings, including TFSAs and RRSPs
  • Property
  • Investments
  • Debts

This list is essential, as you’ll need to reference it when determining who gets what after a breakup.

Once you’ve taken inventory of your possessions, you’ll need to get in touch with a family lawyer. Though you can write an agreement on your own, a family lawyer can help you with this. It is often easiest for you to have a lawyer complete this step, as a lawyer can write your agreement in the most effective and legally sound way.

When making your cohabitation agreement, your lawyer, at your direction, will dictate in the agreement how your property will be divided in the event of a breakup. The same goes for debt, pensions, and any other financial assets or liabilities.

You can then also lay out if and how you or your partner will receive spousal support if you were to break up.

Many lawyers, like us, charge very reasonable rates for simple agreements.

A family lawyer can also act as or provide a witness for the signing of your agreement.

a couple arguing in mediation about their cohabitation agreement

What can’t be in the agreement?

There are some things that a cohabitation agreement cannot do, and most of this pertains to parenting.

Parenting time, child support, and parental responsibilities are all examples of issues that cannot be legally enforced by a cohabitation agreement.

If you’re looking to create a family law agreement that can cover parenting disputes or issues, you’ll need a parenting order or a parenting agreement. To get started on one, give us a call, or fill out the contact form on this page and get in touch with an experienced family lawyer.

What if you don’t have a cohabitation agreement?

Things can get a little complicated if you don’t have a cohabitation agreement and you and your partner decide to split up. This is especially true if you disagree with your partner about who keeps what.

It may benefit you to seek the help of a mediator, who can work with you and your partner to establish a mutually beneficial agreement.

You may also need a separation agreement, if you haven’t already created a cohabitation agreement.

The family lawyers at Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group can help you with any of these needs. Get in touch with us today through our contact form or by calling our office.

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