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Untangling a Cohabitation Agreement

By Laura Southall CFP® CLU® Senior Wealth Advisor

The Southall Group

Assante Financial Management Ltd

Many couples choose to live together without getting married. If you choose to live with a partner in a common-law relationship, you should know that each province and territory differs in its legal treatment of marriage and common-law relationships, as well as in the definition of a common-law relationship. In some provinces, the legal rights of common-law couples are similar to married couples, but this is not the case in all provinces. This means that if you separate from a common-law relationship, you will not have the same rights as you would if you

separated after being married. A cohabitation agreement can be a useful way to formalize an agreement between common-law spouses to outline any matters that are not covered by law, and to protect each spouse in the case of separation.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that you prepare together with your partner. You use it to outline your shared responsibilities in the relationship, ownership of property and debts, and what would happen in the case of separation. Each agreement will be unique to the priorities and circumstances of the couple. The following components are normally found in a cohabitation agreement:

  • Information about each spouse: full name, date of birth, occupation, debts and property brought into the relationship

  • Cohabitation: sharing of responsibilities, sharing of property, sharing of expenses

  • Separation: division of property, repayment of debt, spousal support

  • Other Information Specific to the Couple

How would I set up a Cohabitation Agreement?

It is best to have a lawyer draw up a cohabitation agreement, so that your wishes are clearly represented, and some provinces require that you use a lawyer. There are also templates available online which could meet your needs but might not be specific enough for your situation. Although it is tempting not to incur the cost of the lawyer and use a template, in the long run it is probably far better to incur some initial cost and avoid stress, confusion and possibly hardship, in the case of a separation.

In order for a cohabitation to be legally binding:

  • Both parties must be of age and have the legal capacity to consent.

  • Both parties must consent freely with full knowledge of the facts.

  • The agreement must be dated and signed by both parties.

  • The agreement must be signed by a witness.

Benefits of a Cohabitation Agreement

Common-law relationships are not given the same rights under the law as married couples. In order to protect yourself in the case of separation, a cohabitation agreement can allow you to formalize anything that is not covered by law. And, if you decide to get married, your cohabitation agreement becomes your marriage agreement, also know as prenuptial agreement. Cohabitation agreements are equally effective whether you are a same-sex couple or a heterosexual couple.


Moving in with someone is a new, and often complicated, situation. It could leave you, and your assets, unprotected. A cohabitation agreement can allow you and your partner to outline your responsibilities within the relationship, to protect your individual assets, and to lay out how property, debts, and support will be treated in the case of a separation. If nothing else, a cohabitation agreement gives you a chance to discuss the responsibilities of living together with your partner, and to start your life together with communication and clarity.


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Laura Southall is a Senior Wealth Advisor with Assante Financial Management Ltd. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Assante Financial Management Ltd. Please contact her at (613) 877-3992 or visit to discuss your particular circumstances prior to acting on the information above. Assante Financial Management Ltd. is a member of the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada.


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