In Ontario, a couple can get married in a civil ceremony or in a religious service.

When you get married, the law treats your marriage as an equal economic partnership. If your marriage ends, the value of the property you acquired while you were married and value of property you brought into your marriage will be divided in half: one half for you and one half for your husband or wife. There are exceptions to this rule.

The law also provides that you and your husband or wife has an equal right to stay in the family home. If you separate, you will have to decide who will continue to live there.

In addition, Ontarioís family laws provide that you may be entitled to financial support yourself and your children when your marriage ends.

Couples who feel that the law does not suit the kind of relationship they have can make other arrangements in a marriage contract.

Marriage contracts are very important legal documents. You should think carefully about your decision. Speak to a lawyer before signing a marriage contract.

In a marriage contract you can say what you expect from each other during your marriage. You can list property that you are bringing and say how much its worth and who owns it. You can say exactly how you will divide your property if your marriage ends. You do not have to divide your property equally. You can describe how support payments will be made if your marriage ends. You can also make plans for the education and religious upbringing of your children, even if they are not yet born.

There are some things you cannot put in your marriage contract. You cannot make promises about custody and access arrangements for your children if your marriage breaks down. You cannot change the law that says a wife and a husband have an equal right to live in their home.

Q We are already married and do not have a marriage contract. Now it might be a good idea to have one. Is it too late?

A No, itís not too late. You can sign a marriage contract after you are married. Remember that it must be in writing and signed by both of you in front of a witness who must also sign the contract. If you write the contract yourselves, each of you should have a lawyer look it over before you sign it.

Q I am getting married in a few months. I donít own a lot, but I do have the china set my mother got when she was married. It is worth about $2,000. When I marry, does the china set become my husbandís too?

A No. The china is your property. If your marriage ends, you can keep the china. But if the china has increased in value when your marriage ends, you and your husband will share the increase in value. If you have a marriage contract, it could say that the china is your property and that any increase in the value will not be shared with your husband if your marriage ends.

Living Together

If you are living with someone without being married, people say you are in a common law relationship, or are cohabiting.

Common law couples do not have the same rights as married couples to share in the value of property that their partner brought when the were living together. Usually, furniture, household belongings and other property belong to the person who bought them.

Common law couples also have no special rights to stay in the home they have been sharing while living together.

However, if you have contributed to your property your partner owns, you may be able to claim a share in it. Unless your partner agrees to pay you have, you will not have to do to court to prove your contribution.

If your common law relationship ends, leaving you in financial difficulty, you may be able to get support for yourself or your children. You can ask for support for yourself if you have been living together for three years, or if you have lived together for less time and have had or adopted a child together. Children of parents living in a common law relationship have the same rights to support from their parentís the children of married couples.

Couples in a common law relationship can sign a cohabitation agreement to protect their rights.

A cohabitation agreement can spell out what you both want your financial and family arrangements to be. It can say who owns the things you buy while you are living together. It can say what support payments will be owing if the relationship ends and how your property will be divided. It cannot say who will have custody of, or access to, your children if your relationship ends. You cannot decide this before the relationship is over.

Both of you must sign a cohabitation agreement in front of a witness for it to be legal. The witness must also sign the agreement. Once you have signed a cohabitation agreement, you must follow what it says. A court will change a cohabitation agreement only in rare cases.

You should each speak to a different lawyer before signing a cohabitation agreement.

Q We are living together and donít have a cohabitation agreement. What will happen to the things we own and our savings if one of us dies?

A If you die without having a will which says exactly what you want to happen to your property, your property will go to your blood relatives-for instance, your children, your parents, or your brothers and sisters. To claim part of your property, your common law partner will have to go to court to prove that he or she helped pay for it. This takes time and is expensive. For these reasons, people living in a common law relationship should each have a will that says whom they want their property to go to if one of them dies.

Q When we moved in together, we went to lawyers and signed a cohabitation agreement. Weíve decided to get married. What happens to our cohabitation agreement?

A When you get married, your cohabitation agreement becomes your marriage contract. If you both want to change it, you can sign a new agreement...

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