Are Co-habitation Agreements the New Pre-nup?

I help a lot of couples at various stages of relationships find homes to call their own. It’s a big step moving in with someone and could drastically change how you see each other. Does he leave the toilet seat up all the time? Are there long strands of hair lurking in your laundry? Do they put the cap back on the toothpaste when finished? And most importantly, DO THEY SNORE?


Each Wednesday, a group of us Bosley agents get together for our weekly Mastermind to discuss roadblocks we run up against in our day to day lives with clients, and to brainstorm creative solutions. This week, an agent wanted help navigating a delicate situation whereby one partner was in a position to buy thanks to mom & dad, but the other partner had terrible credit and a considerable amount of debt, all of which was hindering their efforts to rent or buy.  I help a lot of couples at various stages of relationships find homes to call their own. It’s a big step moving in with someone and could drastically change how you see each other.

Couples moving in together, Co-habitation Agreements

I speak from experience here. When I first met my ex-husband, he moved into a house that I had purchased with my parents. Everything was “tickety-boo” as my nana used to say… until it wasn’t. Over the course of 14 years together, he invested a good share of his savings into the house to make improvements (some we agreed upon, some to my surprise), and despite knowing that this was owned by me AND my parents, because we never sat down for a formal discussion on how money should be spent on the home, and who would be entitled to what if we sold the home, when we decided to go our own ways it was a mess, and left both sides with a ton of resentment.

This could all have been avoided had we entered into our living arrangement with a co-habitation agreement.

What is a Co-Habitation Agreement?

Prenup versus Cohabitation agreements

A co-habitation agreement is a legal contract between two people who live together in a romantic relationship but are not married. The agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of each partner regarding the property, assets, debts, and other financial matter in the event of a breakup or death.

What is Common law?

Common law in Ontario refers to the legal system where couples live together in a conjugal relationship without getting married. It provides certain rights and obligations to cohabiting partners similar to those of married couples, but only upon separation. In Ontario, common law couples must have lived together in a conjugal relationship for a minimum of three years to be considered common law.

What are the Benefits of a Co-Habitation Agreement?

One of the main reasons couples are encouraged to invest in a co-habitation agreement is that it clearly defines what the property is and the financial responsibilities associated with it.  It is also helpful in establishing expectations for shared living expenses and obligations down to maintenance, renovations, other properties held by either partner and/or their families, and future purchases and/or sales.  Co-habitation agreements also extend to cover pensions, individual and joint bank accounts, personal assets and debt.

Money is often the number one source of conflict in relationships. Like a pre-nup in the states (doesn’t exists here folks, we have marriage contracts), it may seem a loaded topic to introduce the idea of a co-habitation agreement when moving in with someone, or when buying property together, but I speak from experience – it’s best to lay out the terms when in a good place with your partner, because when things go bad, they can go really bad really quickly.

A co-habitation agreement will outline the steps to be taken should the partnership expire. Terms such as valuations, buy-outs, who gets to stay and who moves out, everything and anything should be laid out ahead of time as a reference point for clarity when emotions run high. Even if the partnership lasts for years, or forever,  it can be considered a line in the sand to refer back to when arguments arise.

Can you Write your Own Co-Habitation Agreement?

You can absolutely write up your own co-habitation agreement, but I recommend you have it reviewed by a lawyer. If you don’t know of any, I can connect you to a few, it’s important to find one that suits you best.

You should also each have your own legal representation to ensure that your rights and interests are being protected, that the contract is enforceable and meets all legal requirements. A straight-forward co-habitation agreement will cost two-to-three thousand dollars, but could end up saving you much much more in the future.

There are standard agreements available free online that you can use as a starting point, and don’t be afraid to make it your own. Some common terms to include are property ownership, responsibilities for household expenses, decision-making processes, and what will happen if the relationship ends. 

Legal Advice, Cohabitation agreements

It is crucial to first identify the purpose of the agreement, is it limited to the property itself or are there more assets involved? How much do you want the agreement to cover, just financials or day-to-day responsibilities? Is there a date on which you would like to sit down and review what’s been agreed to, update the contract to reflect your current situation. The goal here is to be efficient with both your time and money, and to cover yourself accordingly without spending a fortune back and forth between lawyers. I promise you, this will be worth every penny.

You will need to gather any and all information about your individual financial situations, property ownership, and any other relevant details that might be included in the agreement.  Full transparency is key here, no one likes surprises, and I believe this step is crucial in establishing an honest and open relationship that might just last a lifetime. Once you get used to talking about money, you can talk about everything IMO Determine the terms of the agreement, and decide what specific items you want to include. 

Again, it is recommended that both you and your partner have the agreement reviewed by a lawyer, and make sure all parties involved have had a chance to review it. Have an open mind to questions or concerns they may have, because again, I speak from experience – love goggles are real people! There is a lot of money on the line, let’s make sure it is covered.

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