Dealing with debts after you separate

If you're married or living with someone as if you were married (you might call it a common-law relationship), debts can sometimes be a problem. They can also be a problem after a relationship ends. If you know the basic legal rules about them, you can protect yourself.

If you've been living with someone as if you were married for at least two years, the law will treat you in the same way as it treats married people.

Here are some basic guidelines about debts and responsibilities:

  • The law treats married couples and couples who've lived together for at least two years as spouses.
  • The law says that if you live with someone or you're married, you share responsibility for the debts you took on during the relationship, no matter whose name they're in. This is called family debt. It includes debts you didn't even know about.
  • If you take on debts after you separate to take care of family property, they're also shared equally.
  • You can make an agreement while you live together or after you separate to divide your debts unequally. (See Write your own separation agreement to find out more about writing an agreement.) But before you sign an agreement like this, ask a lawyer to look at it. See Tips about getting legal help for where to find a lawyer.
  • The people you owe money to are called your creditors. They can only collect the debt from the person who signed for it. If you both signed, the creditor can collect from either of you.
  • The law also says that you can get out of sharing debt equally if it’s "significantly unfair" to make you pay for half.

See Dividing property and debts after you separate and Protecting yourself financially after you separate for more about managing debts after you separate from someone.