Making an agreement when you live together
One way to try to prevent conflict about your property, savings, and debt if your relationship ever breaks up is to make a written agreement while you and the other person are living together. It might be easier to come to an agreement during the relationship than when you're separating, and you'll have more of an idea of what to expect if you break up. Sometimes people call these cohabitation or marriage agreements. The provincial family law just calls them agreements.
You can make an agreement:
- at the start of or during your common-law relationship, or
- before or during your marriage.
Before you make an agreement, it's important that you and your spouse share all the relevant information with each other (this includes financial information). This will ensure a fair outcome if there is ever a conflict. The BC Family Law Act puts a legal duty on you to give your spouse "full and true information."
Write down what you've both agreed to. It's a good idea for each spouse to get legal advice about what should go into the agreement and how it should be written. To protect your legal rights and those of your children, you each need to see a different lawyer. (You also need to see a lawyer if you've already signed an agreement and have questions about it.) See Who can help? for information on how to find a lawyer. Also see the fact sheet What is independent legal advice?
Both you and your spouse should sign the agreement. If it deals with property, your signatures must be witnessed by at least one other person. The same person can witness both signatures.
These agreements often answer questions about what happens after you break up:
- How will you divide family property, like real estate, possessions, and pensions?
- How will you divide debts?
- Will one of you receive spousal support?
- How will you resolve any disagreements (for example, will you use mediation)?
The agreement can also describe what goes on during the time you live together. It's a good idea to write down:
- who owns what,
- how much money each of you puts in to run the household,
- if you have a joint credit card and/or separate individual credit cards, and
- who pays the debts. (If your spouse agrees to pay part of your debt, that agreement is just between the two of you; those you owe money to can only collect the debt from you.)
The agreement you make before or during your marriage or the time you're living together can't deal with parenting issues (such as parenting time and parental responsibilities) and child support after you separate. If you include those things in the agreement you make while you're together, they won't be valid and the court won't enforce them. The only exception is if you make the agreement because you've decided to separate but are still living together.
If you don't make an agreement while you're living together, you can still make one after you separate. Sometimes people call this a separation agreement, but provincial family law just refers to it as an agreement. There are people who can help you make one. For more information, see our fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement?
If it isn't possible to reach an agreement, you can ask the court to make orders about whatever family law issues you can't resolve.
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