Cohabitation Agreements in BC: A Must-Have for Common-Law Couples - Zukerman Law

Cohabitation Agreements in BC: A Must-Have for Common-Law Couples

In British Columbia, an increasing number of couples are choosing to live together in common-law partnerships. While this offers a level of commitment and shared life, it’s important to understand the legal implications compared to marriage. One significant distinction lies in the area of property division during separation.
This blog post explores the concept of cohabitation agreements in BC. We will delve into the benefits they offer common-law couples, the key aspects typically addressed in these agreements, and their legal weight. By clearly understanding cohabitation agreements, you can make informed decisions about protecting your assets and fostering a more secure foundation for your common-law relationship in British Columbia.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

For couples in British Columbia who choose to live together in a common-law relationship, often called “living together without being married,” the legalities surrounding separation can differ significantly from those of married couples. One key area of distinction lies in property division. Unlike married couples, where specific legal frameworks govern asset division, common-law separations can be more complex and potentially contentious.
A cohabitation agreement serves as a valuable tool for common-law couples in BC. This written agreement, established before or during your cohabitation, outlines how specific assets, debts, and financial responsibilities will be handled in the event of a separation.
By proactively creating a cohabitation agreement, you can:

  • Promote Clarity and Avoid Disagreements: A well-drafted agreement fosters open communication and establishes clear expectations regarding property division and financial obligations. This can significantly reduce the likelihood of future disputes during a separation.
  • Protect Your Assets: The agreement allows you to specify how pre-existing assets brought into the relationship will be treated upon separation. This helps safeguard your financial interests and ensures a fair outcome.
  • Plan for the Future: Cohabitation agreements provide an opportunity to discuss and document financial arrangements for the duration of your relationship. This fosters a sense of security and stability within your common-law partnership.

In essence, a cohabitation agreement empowers common-law couples in BC to take control of their financial future and make informed decisions about how their assets and liabilities will be handled during a separation.

The Benefits of Having a Cohabitation Agreement in BC

While common-law partnerships offer commitment, legal protections differ from marriage in BC, especially regarding property division. A cohabitation agreement empowers couples with several key benefits:

  • Clarity & Security: Agreements define how assets and finances will be handled during separation, fostering clarity and reducing uncertainty.
  • Protected Assets: Pre-existing assets brought into the relationship are safeguarded by outlining their treatment upon separation.
  • Defined Responsibilities: Financial obligations like mortgage payments are divided, minimizing confusion and potential conflict.
  • Reduced Disputes: Clear expectations established in the agreement can significantly reduce disagreements during separation, saving time and money.
  • Tailored Approach: Agreements can be customized to reflect each couple’s unique circumstances and priorities.
  • Planning for the Future: Open communication about long-term goals and expectations is encouraged, strengthening the foundation for the relationship.

By considering a cohabitation agreement, common-law couples in BC can establish a secure foundation for their partnership and navigate potential future separations with greater clarity and peace of mind.

What Can Be Included in a Cohabitation Agreement (BC)?

What Can Be Included in a Cohabitation Agreement (BC)?

A well-crafted cohabitation agreement is a roadmap for navigating potential complexities during separation. Here’s a breakdown of key aspects commonly addressed in these agreements for common-law couples in BC:

  • Division of Property and Debts: The agreement can outline how your family property, including real estate, possessions, and pensions, will be divided upon separation and specify how any existing debts will be handled.
  • Spousal Support: While specific criteria apply, the agreement can address whether one partner would receive spousal support after separation.
  • Dispute Resolution: The agreement can establish a preferred method for resolving disagreements arising during separation, such as mediation. This approach can promote a more amicable resolution compared to litigation.

Important Considerations

While cohabitation agreements offer significant benefits, it’s important to understand their limitations. Parenting arrangements, including child custody, access (parenting time), and child support cannot be definitively decided within a cohabitation agreement. When making these determinations, the court will always prioritize the child’s best interests. While pet custody agreements can’t be legally enforced in BC (except in rare situations), including these topics can still guide future discussions and promote amicable decision-making.

Creating Your Cohabitation Agreement: A Step-by-Step Guide (BC)

Creating Your Cohabitation Agreement: A Step-by-Step Guide (BC)

So, you’ve decided that a cohabitation agreement is the right step for your common-law partnership in BC. Here’s a breakdown of the process to help you get started:

Gather Information: Begin by sitting down together and creating a detailed inventory. This should include all your assets, such as savings, TFSAs, RRSPs, real estate, and possessions. Additionally, list any existing debts you each hold. Having a clear picture of your combined financial situation is crucial.

  1. Gather Information: Begin by sitting down together and creating a detailed inventory. This should include all your assets, such as savings, TFSAs, RRSPs, real estate, and possessions. Additionally, list any existing debts you each hold. Having a clear picture of your combined financial situation is crucial.
  2. Open Communication: Engage in honest and open communication about how you’d ideally like to handle property division, savings, debt allocation, and potential spousal support if separation occurs. Understanding how the BC Family Law Act would handle these matters in the absence of an agreement can be helpful for informed decision-making.
  3. Drafting the Agreement: While you can choose to write the agreement yourselves, remember that legal enforceability is crucial. Consulting with a qualified family lawyer is highly recommended for a comprehensive and legally sound agreement. The Zukerman Law team has extensive experience crafting cohabitation agreements tailored to your needs and circumstances. We can guide you through drafting, ensuring the agreement accurately reflects your intentions and protects your interests.
  4. Signing and Witnessing: If you decide to draft the agreement yourselves, ensure both partners sign and date the finalized document. For agreements involving property or spousal support, the signature of at least one witness is required. This witness observes both partners signing the agreement and then signs and dates the document themselves.

By following these steps and seeking professional legal guidance from Zukerman Law, you can create a cohabitation agreement that fosters clarity, protects your assets, and promotes a secure foundation for your common-law partnership in BC.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, cohabitation agreements offer a valuable tool for common-law couples in BC. You can navigate potential complexities during separation by fostering open communication, establishing clear expectations, and protecting your assets with greater peace of mind. If you’re considering a cohabitation agreement, don’t hesitate to contact the highly experienced family law team at Zukerman Law in BC. We’ll guide you through the process, ensuring your agreement is tailored to your unique circumstances and protects your best interests.

author

Stuart Zukerman

Stuart Zukerman, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, has over 32 years of experience in litigation with a focus on Family Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Dismissal claims, and Collaborative Divorce & Mediation. He has extensive trial experience in divorce, child custody, spousal support, asset division, and ICBC injury claims. As an accredited Family Law Mediator, he helps resolve disputes without court intervention. Stuart has also authored papers on family law and lectured at CLE courses.