A domestic contract is an agreement between you and your spouse or partner that addresses your legal rights and responsibilities in relation to your relationship. Most often, domestic contracts are used to address what will happen in the event there is a breakdown of the relationship, including what will happen to your property and whether any support will be payable. They can address a broad range of legal issues or only specific items. There are three types of domestic contracts in Ontario:
- Cohabitation Agreements;
- Marriage Contracts; and
- Separation Agreements.
Cohabitation agreements are usually entered into by non-married couples who intend to live together or have started living together. Cohabiting with your spouse can be messy financially and create confusion over who owns certain property. As well, even if you don’t get married, cohabiting with a spouse for more than three years can raise issues of spousal support. A cohabitation agreement can set out the rights and obligations of both parties in the event the relationship terminates, eliminating confusion over property ownership and payment of spousal support.
Marriage contracts are similar to cohabitation agreements, but are entered into by couples prior to getting married or after marriage. In fact, cohabitation agreements can be drafted to become marriage contracts in the event a couple marries. Marriage contracts can address ownership in or division of property, support obligations, and any other matter concerned the parties’ affairs. However, they cannot address custody and/or access of children.
Separation Agreements are contracts signed by spouses who are separating. They address all rights and obligations arising from the relationship and its breakdown. Separation agreements can address anything arising from the breakdown of a relationship, including: property rights, support obligations, and custody and/or access of children. Separation agreements are used by almost every separating couple who does not pursue litigation to the point of receiving a judgment from the court. They can be signed at any part of a litigation or before litigation begins.
A valid domestic contract is a useful tool to help protect your legal interests. Always speak to a lawyer before signing a domestic contract to ensure that it will be upheld and to discuss the effect of the contract on your rights. Our family law lawyers in the Toronto office of Hart Legal have experience drafting and reviewing domestic contracts – if you have questions or concerns about domestic contracts, contact our office to set up a free initial consultation. We have offices in Downtown Toronto, Burlington, Newmarket, and Vaughn for your convenience.