Everyone needs a family law agreement – before cohabitation, during cohabitation, and after a relationship ends.

Family law agreements are contracts that outline the rights and responsibilities of two parties who have entered, or are exiting, a relationship. Though the couple has the power to decide the terms of the agreement, once it has been signed it constitutes a binding legal contract whose terms can be upheld within the court of law.

Family law agreements are incredibly flexible; they can require the parties to agree to a term that applies to just about any facet of their joint lives. The most common terms people want to delineate are financial, though many also like to include clauses on parenting responsibilities, property sharing, or household duties.  The fundamental purpose of family law agreements is to preemptively settle an issue that has arisen, or one that could potentially arise and might be the subject of a legal dispute down the line. In short, they can be real relationship-savers.

It is often preferable – and cheaper – to proactively draw up a mutual agreement than have the courts resolve a dispute after the fact. The agreement can be customized to suit the couple’s circumstances and has the ability to be modified as their lives change.

 

Prenuptial/Marriage Agreements

Couples who sign a family law agreement when they marry or plan to marry are entering into a marriage agreement, otherwise known as a prenuptial agreement.

Some of the issues typically addressed within the agreement are as follows:

  • How will a joint bank account be managed? Will the parties contribute a fixed monthly amount to the joint account?
  • How will common household expenses be shared? Will specific bills be paid by a specific party or will they be shared proportionately to the parties’ incomes?
  • How will unexpected expenses be paid for? For example, who will pay for household repairs?
  • How will savings, RESPs, RRSPs, and retirement funds be managed? Will each party be required to contribute a fixed monthly amount?
  • How will each party’s income during the relationship be handled? What will happen if someone gets an unexpected windfall, like a lottery win or an inheritance?

 

Cohabitation Agreements

Cohabitation agreements are applicable to the opposite, or same-sex partners who live together but are not married. The agreement holds the same legal power as a marriage agreement and is usually sought after so that the parties can protect their individual assets.

 

Separation Agreements

Separation agreements are entered into once a relationship has dissolved. There is no need for the parties to have separated or obtained a divorce before drafting an agreement; in fact, having a clear framework for how to proceed often makes the separation more amicable and manageable.

Some of the issues typically addressed within the agreement are as follows:

  • How will the children be cared for? How will important parenting decisions about the children be made?
  • If the children will be living mostly with one parent, how much time with the children will the other parent have?
  • How much child support be paid, and which of the children’s expenses will be shared between the parents?
  • Should a party receive spousal support? If so, how much support should be paid and for how long?
  • How will the family property be divided? Should the parties’ excluded property be divided?
  • How will the family debt be divided?
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