Back Up Before You Shack Up! Seven Essential Steps to Take Before Moving in Together

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1. Understand what you are getting into. Did you know that in British Columbia you become a spouse pursuant to the Family Law Act if you have lived in a “marriage-like relationship” for two or more years? Did you know that you can become responsible for child support of your partner’s children if you are a) a spouse of the parent , and b) have contributed to the support of the child for as little as a year? Living together is serious business, and so it is important to go into it with eyes wide open.

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2. See a family lawyer. Have you read the Family Law Act? Well, if you are thinking of moving in with your love, you ought to familiarize yourself with the basics of the Act because it will govern what happens to family property and family debt if your relationship ends. Even with just one appointment, a BC Family Law Lawyer can help you understand the basic rights and responsibilities imposed by the Family Law Act when you cohabit with your romantic partner.

3. Take Stock. What assets and liabilities do you have? Once you become a spouse, you can be sued for property division and spousal support if your relationship ends. Now is the time to tally up the assets you have and to consider whether your income level exposes you to a potential spousal support claim. It’s a good idea to print off a copy of all of your bank accounts, investments and debts so that you have a record of the balances as at the time you started living together. Keep those records tucked away just in case.

4. Think carefully before giving away your furniture. Assets brought into the relationship are yours to keep, but you lose that benefit if you dispose of them during the relationship. Furniture purchased after you move in together will likely be family property, subject to division upon relationship breakdown.

5. Talk to your partner about your expectations. The time to sort out the division of household duties is before you move in together. This would be a good time to think about how each of you will contribute to household expenses. Consider couples counselling if either of you are finding it difficult to have these conversations. The time to establish effective communication is now!

6. Appraise real property. If you have real property (ie. a house, condominium, or other land) you should consider getting an appraisal. In general, property that you bring into a spousal relationship is excluded from division but the increase to excluded assets is divided between you. In urban areas in British Columbia, real property often can increase in value by tens of thousands of dollars within a short time. It is important that you know what the value is at the outset so that if your relationship does break down, you know your exposure to a claim by your spouse.

7. Consider a cohabitation agreement. A properly executed cohabitation agreement can help you define the expectations you each have for living together, and reduce the chance of litigation if you do break up. You can use a cohabitation to alter or completely opt out of the rules set out in the Family Law Act. One of the requirements of a cohabitation agreement is that both spouses understand the nature and consequences of the agreement, so make sure that you see a lawyer before signing anything.

*Nothing in this post constitutes legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. To establish a solicitor-client relationship with Virginia K. Richards please contact her at Henderson Heinrichs LLP using the information on the Contact Page.