Cohabit the Right Way in Ontario

Your relationship has turned serious. You’re an item, but do you need a cohabitation agreement? Chances are yes to protect your legal rights. Ontario couples who live together can lose out in court if their relationship goes bad. Goodbye to your money and your dignity!

A couple

Conjugal Relationships in Ontario

You are “conjugating” if you have lived together for at least three years or one year if you have a biological or adopted child. Conjugal couples are intimate, exclusive (it’s your only conjugal relationship) and committed to sharing their lives. You consider yourself a couple and others see you that way too.

Different Rights, Same Issues


Cohabitating spouses have different legal rights but the same issues. Who owns the home you lived in? Who gets child custody? Can you get spousal support? 

  • It depends on who paid for the house and is on the legal title. 
  • You may have an “unjust enrichment” case if you were a stay-at-home parent and kept the house tidy, but your ex plans to sell the home and pocket the profits. 
  • A court can give you the home or a cash award.
  • Parents usually share child custody. You may get sole custody if your ex is absent or unfit.
  • Split custody is awarded if an older child wants to live with you and their siblings want to stay with your ex.
  • You can apply for child and spousal support. How much you get depends on your income and family needs.

Common-Law Spouses’ Legal Rights

Briefly, your conjugal common-law spouse has a legal right to child support, spousal support and your CPP (Canada Pension Plan) pension credits. Property rights are something else. Unlike a married spouse, they do not have an automatic right to your matrimonial home unless you both own it. They also don’t have a right to equalize property you bought during your relationship. Typically, common-law spouses get what they brought into the relationship and little or nothing more.

Sharing What You Own When You Cohabitate

Putting what you own in writing prevents any awkwardness if you split. A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that sets ground rules for common-law relationships in Ontario. In case you split, you can decide in advance:

  • what property you own outright
  • what property you will share
  • how to divide your money
  • who can keep or live in your shared home
  • and how much spousal support is owed.

Child custody and access or visitation rights are excluded. An Ontario family court will make those decisions for you.

Make a Legal Cohabitation Agreement

Making an informal agreement is okay. But to make it valid, you must sign and have a cohabitation agreement witnessed. Since it is a legal document, you would be wise to have a family lawyer draft your cohabitation agreement. An Ontario lawyer can point out gaps you may not have thought of. They can also witness and notarize your final agreement.

Signing contracts

Get an Independent Legal Opinion

Before you sign, ask an Ontario family lawyer for an independent legal opinion. Of course you love your spouse. A second opinion never hurts though, especially when your finances and personal property are on the line.

Make a Valid Marriage Contract

The best part is when you get married, your cohabitation agreement becomes a marriage contract. Now that saved time and money. You can change it at any time and have the security of knowing you have planned ahead for yourself and your family.

Live Up to Cohabitation Commitments

Cohabitation agreements are not for the faint of heart. Because it’s legal, you must do what your cohabitation agreement says. While you can make changes, they must be in writing, signed and witnessed. Once you separate, disagreements have to be settled in court.

Next Steps: Make a Will or Update Your Estate

Common-law spouses have fewer legal rights than married couples. That makes it doubly important that you make a personal will or update your will if something changes. A new or adopted child, informal separation or buying real estate all change your estate. Without a last will and testament, your common-law spouse will be left out in the cold.

Common-Law Rights to a Spousal Estate

Worst case scenario: you neglect to get a divorce and that ex-spouse you despise gets your property and possessions. Property you meant your common-law spouse to have, like the home you shared, will go to another if you die without a will (intestate). Your parents, children or siblings — even nieces and nephews — are all in line when the government distributes an estate without a will. Don’t let a common-law spouse suffer by neglecting or forgetting to make a personal will or to update your estate.

Document for contracts

Get Cohabitation Advice from an Ontario Family Lawyer

Axess Law’s Ontario family lawyers can draft a cohabitation agreement or explain your legal rights when you live together. In person appointments with licensed lawyers are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices. Virtual appointments for convenient online video calls are available 7 days a week, day or evening. Make an appointment by calling toll-free to 877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.