Should you move in with your partner? One of the major milestones in any relationship is moving in together. Moving in with your partner means a lot of things; trust in the other person, comfort in their company, potential long-term plans. It is a major step that demonstrates how serious the relationship is getting, as there is nothing more personal than sharing everything. Many couples wait until marriage, while others use living together as a test run to see if marriage is viable, with the option of breaking up without getting a divorce. But is cohabitation really a risk-free trial period? As easy as the idea may seem at first, many couples who live together have no understanding of their rights, which raises many questions in the case of separation. Whether you are about to make the step to live with your partner, or are researching your rights while currently in a cohabitating relationship, consider the following ten points.
- What are your long term relationship goals?
By planning on moving in with a partner, are you looking for marriage in the foreseeable future, distant future, or at all? It is important to be on the same page in terms of where the relationship is, and where it is going, before you/they move in. Once you start living together, everything becomes shared, and in the case of a breakup, things can get messy in terms of ownership. One of the worst situations you can find yourself in is moving in fully with someone, then finding out that they don’t believe in marriage, when you were strongly hoping for that outcome, and being stuck in a relationship you no longer want.
- What if One of us Dies?
If one of you passes away while cohabiting, without an established will or cohabitation agreement, the other partner is not entitled to any of their property. If the deceased has any blood relatives, the items become theirs, including the property if they were the sole name on the property. Establishing a will and cohabitation agreement, ahead of time, that outlines where all pieces of property will be going in the case of death will save plenty of time later, rather than having to litigate later to settle the case of ownership. When drafting these wills, you will be unable to get a joint will, but two separate wills that list each other as beneficiaries will suffice.
- Can we file taxes together? List each other on insurance?
Couples who cohabit have many similar rights to married couples in terms of taxes, pensions, insurance and other various benefits. Talk to a financial adviser, or your insurance company, about how you can set up your partner to be a beneficiary, or file your taxes together.
- Owner of the Household?
Whose name is on the property ownership? Will the other partner be paying any sort of rent/lease/amenities? In the case of a separation, when it comes to property, it belongs to whoever’s name is on the ownership. In the case of a joint ownership and separation, the property can be sold and divided between both parties, or if an agreement can be made, one partner can reside within it. This is important to think about, because if you are moving into your partner’s house that is in their name, you are not owed anything in regards to the property if you separate. If you have invested money into the property over time, there is a chance you could litigate it for funds, but it is unlikely to hold in court without proof of purchase.
- Who will own the furniture/kitchen supplies/items we bought together?
There are no laws stating that division of property needs to be an even split upon separation for those cohabiting or in common law relationships. When it comes down to it, it is up to the 2 parties to decide who gets what, depending on who purchased each item. For items purchased jointly, they can either be liquidated and sold, or parties can decide who wants to keep them. The law can potentially assist in terms of disputes, but that would be solved through civil litigation. If the assets in question equate to a value less than $10,000, a paralegal may be able to assist you.
You and your partner are able to open a joint bank account together without being officially cohabiting or common-law. If you feel like a joint bank account is something you are interested in, you and your partner can visit your local bank and get started right away. A joint bank account is a great way to work together on savings, and get a feel for the weight of responsibility that your partner may have. Ensure that both of your names are on the account, so that both of you can have access to both deposits and withdrawals. In the case of overdrafts on the accounts, both of you will be responsible for paying the debt owed. The account is a great way to plan for a move, travel, child, pet, retirement, or any other big plans your relationship might hold.
After 3 years of cohabitation in Ontario, you and your partner are considered to be common-law spouses (1 year if a child is involved), meaning that in the case of a separation, there may be obligation to pay spousal support. If you and your partner have a large difference in income, a cohabitation agreement, in which spousal support is outlined, is strongly suggested. Having conversations about money when making large decisions is not only a healthy part of any relationship, but necessary. By discussing differing incomes, bill paying and savings accounts, you can simultaneously build a plan for the future, while also learning about your partner’s habits and lifestyle.
After 1 year of living together with a child, you and your partner will be considered common-law. In terms of supporting the child, the parents are considered the same as married and will be responsible for supporting the child financially and as a parent. Adding a child to any relationship requires a lot of long term planning and careful consideration. If you and your partner are cohabiting, and a child is introduced to the picture, you may have to consider moving for a school zone or day care and starting a joint bank account for savings. Moving then brings up questions about the name on the property and potentially changing your rent/amenity payment arrangement. In the case of separation, the court would treat it as a divorce and custody and access become major factors.
If you and your partner are planning on making large purchases/investments that will require a loan of any kind, ensure to devise a payment plan and state both names on the loan in question. In the case of separation, the loan will remain in whoever’s name was on the loan at the beginning, and you would not want to be stuck paying it alone. Debt and outstanding loans are additional items that can be covered in a cohabitation agreement. It is important to ensure you and your partner are honest and upfront about any and all debt that might be a factor long term.
- If we break up, will I need to worry about anything legally when I move on?
As long as the basic necessities such as property, division of assets, children and money are taken care of, there should be no liabilities after the separation. Ensuring that a cohabitation agreement is in place ahead of time will also prevent future litigation. If your ex-partner wants to litigate that you owe them more than stated, the safety net of the cohabitation agreement that they previously signed can save you the process. In any situation, it is important to know your rights. While cohabitation is not as binding as a marriage, there are still laws and clauses you could run into throughout living together, so it is important to be prepared. The best thing you can do is have a cohabitation agreement set up, so that you and your partner are always on the same page in terms of the law. It’s never too late to set one up, and can be really useful in showing how serious a relationship is. In the case of marriage, a cohabitation agreement can play a large role in the marriage contract, as the clauses can remain in place after marriage. Meet with a lawyer today to discuss how you can set a cohabitation agreement up, and discuss the many added benefits of being proactive in your relationship.