Legal matters and finances for couples

Legal matters when living as a couple

Getting married or moving in together can have legal implications. These may affect your finances.

For example, what happens to property and assets that you own together if you break up? There are different laws about dividing shared property and assets for common-law couples and married couples.

It’s important to discuss these issues if you’re thinking about living as a couple.

Prenuptial and cohabitation agreements

Prenuptial and cohabitation agreements are contracts between two people in a relationship. They set out what will happen to your property and assets if your relationship ends.

Cohabitation agreements are for couples who aren’t married but live together.

Prenuptial agreements (or marriage contracts) are for couples about to get married.

A lawyer (or notary in Quebec and British Columbia) can prepare these agreements for you. Each partner should get their own legal advice before signing one of these agreements. Your provincial or territorial law society can help you find a lawyer.

Find out how to contact your provincial or territorial law society.

Learn what you need to know before you sign a contract.

Why couples enter into these agreements

Couples enter into these agreements so they have control over who gets what in the event that the relationship ends or if they separate or divorce. These agreements help couples make sure each partner is treated fairly.

Judges consider cohabitation and prenuptial agreements when making decisions about spousal support after a break-up.

After separation or divorce, federal, provincial and territorial laws deal with how property is divided. Despite these laws, couples sometimes disagree on how to divide assets and debts.

After a common-law relationship ends there are no laws to deal with how property is divided. Anything you bought for yourself and paid for with your own money usually belongs to you. Things that you bought together jointly are usually divided or their value shared.

Disagreements are costly if you need legal help. Talking about how you'd separate or divide what you own before living together or getting married may help avoid legal fees if the relationship ends.

Find information on provincial and territorial laws about dividing property when a couple breaks up.

Learn about spousal support, including what factors the judge considers.

Will and estate planning for couples

Having a will is very important to make sure your wishes are carried out when you die. In some provinces and territories, getting married or starting living common-law can cancel any previous wills you've made.

This will affect how your estate is divided when you die. Your estate is what you own and what you owe.

If you don’t update your will to include your new marriage or common-law relationship, your estate may be divided according to provincial and territorial laws as if you had no will.

Your provincial or territorial law society can help you find a lawyer.

Changing your last name

Some people chose to use their spouse’s name when they marry.

Check with your province or territory to see if you need a legal change of name if you want to take your spouse’s last name. In many cases, you can simply begin using your spouse’s last name.

If you change your last name, make sure you update:

  • your identification such as your passport and driver’s licence
  • your information with the Canada Revenue Agency
  • your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  • your banking information
  • your payroll information at work
  • your insurance information
  • your provincial or territorial health card

You need to provide your marriage certificate when you change your name on documents.

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