What are cohabitation, marriage and separation agreements?
There are various agreements that apply to couples in different stages of a relationship, including cohabitation agreements, marriage agreements and separation agreements.
A cohabitation agreement is entered into by a couple who are living together but are not married (often called common-law). A marriage agreement, also known as a pre-nuptial agreement, is a legal agreement entered into by a married couple or a couple planning to get married. A cohabitation or marriage agreement is a legal contract between two people setting out what each of their rights and obligations are if the relationship ends. The agreement may include such terms as how your property will be divided, what assets are excluded, how to deal with family debt, or spousal support. By law, certain terms such as child support or child custody may not be included in a cohabitation or marriage agreement.
A separation agreement is a legal contract between a separated common-law or married couple that sets out the terms of their separation. A separation agreement is similar to the above agreements in content, however unlike a marriage agreement, a separation agreement will include terms about children and child support if applicable.
Why is a family law lawyer important when drafting and signing agreements?
Cohabitation agreements, marriage agreements and separation agreements are legal documents. They are often complex, and the law relating to what can be put in an agreement varies by province. When you sign one of these agreements, it is legally binding on both parties and it may be difficult or unlikely to have the agreement set aside (cancelled by the court). Therefore, it is recommended that a family law lawyer be used to draft your cohabitation agreement, marriage agreement or separation agreement. If your partner presents you with an agreement to sign, you should get legal advice about the agreement from your own family law lawyer before you sign the agreement. It is very important for you to know your legal rights and entitlements and to fully understand the legal contract you are signing and the consequences of the legal matters drafted in your agreement.
How can Suleman Family Law help you with your cohabitation, marriage or separation agreement?
If you need a cohabitation, marriage or separation agreement, our experienced family law lawyer Zara Suleman would be happy to help you. Please visit our Getting Started page to learn about the first steps for any of our new clients. Here’s what you need to know specifically about having an agreement drafted:
- If you are able to decide some of the terms of the agreement with your partner in advance, let us know and we will include those terms in the agreement. The closer in agreement you and your partner are on the terms you want, the less likelihood for extra time and money spent on doing revisions to your draft agreement.
- We will ask you for a variety of information so that we can create the best agreement possible. Providing complete and accurate information is an important part of the process.
- Both parties need to provide full disclosure of all their financial information, including all assets and liabilities. Some examples are annual income, RRSP savings, bank savings, business investments, mortgage, personal loans, and assets such as cars, furniture, etc. The information provided for your financial disclosure will be summarized into schedules for your agreement.
- Agreements take time to draft, review, revise and finalize. If you require a cohabitation or marriage agreement for a specific time-frame, start early – don’t leave it to the last minute.
- Remember that your partner will also need time to take the draft agreement to their own lawyer for independent legal advice; be prepared that amendments will be requested – some of which you may or may not like. Allow time for more processing.
- For cohabitation and marriage agreements – have the hard conversations with your future or current spouse now. If you have never talked about money, division of labour in the household, children, childcare, etc., don’t wait until the moment you need an agreement to have these foundational relationship discussions.
- For separation agreements – this is your opportunity to finalize the end of your relationship and identify how you are choosing to move forward on issues such as division of family property and debt, parenting arrangements, spousal and child support, etc. Allow time for processing, revisions and negotiations on contested areas.
Remember that agreements are not being drafted for when the day is good; it is rare that you will look fondly at your agreements when everything is going exactly as you planned in your relationship. Agreements, in particular for cohabitation and marriage agreements, are often for when there is a breakdown in a relationship. Although it can be hard to keep this in mind, it is best to have agreements that are clear and accurate about your information, intentions and commitments to each other should your relationship end.
“We don’t need that in writing; we will figure it out later” – This may sound like a good idea at the time when you are just moving in or about to get married, but you may feel significantly different in the event you have to rely on your agreement and you are not able to “figure” things out with your ex-partner.
It is important that you understand your agreement. Many lawyers are now drafting more plain language agreements; you need to be aware of what you are and are not agreeing to.
Please contact Suleman Family Law for more information or to schedule an appointment.
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