Who Gets the Cars When Your Relationship Crashes and Burns

It’s the man cave of dreams, an enviable palace with marble walls and leather couches for the Hamilton owner’s $12 to $15 million personal car collection. Wheels.ca calls it “a shrine to showcase some of the greatest road-going machines in the world” (July 27, 2016). 

Reclining On the Lamborghinis

From imported Lamborghini couches to marble-clad washrooms, the $4 million cave is a retreat to rival no other. GTA’s Homes by JoJo owner and art graduate Joanna Pietras, who designed it, “hates boring”.  The 50-car emporium boasts a 3,000-cigar humidor.

Matching Car, Matching Piano

And if that’s not enough, a grand piano worthy of any lounge lizard matches the owner’s five-Ferrari lineup — a Ferrari California, F12 Berlinetta, 599, 458 Italia Spyder and F430. The piano comes in Rosso Corsa, Ferrari’s shiny personal brandmark since 2007. Red has been the official colour of Italian racing cars since the 1920s.

Cashing in the Collectibles

Great passion is worthy of great art, so they say. But who gets the collectibles if your perfect relationship crashes and burns? When your Audi 3’s your baby, you’re not giving up custody without a fight. Cashing in the collectibles may not be quite so easy if you’re living common law.

Living Together, Living Apart

Common-law relationships have their advantages. You can come and go at will, without the financial and emotional baggage of a messy divorce. Everything has its price. For common-law couples, it’s literally owning the shirt on your back. BTW, once you’ve lived together in an intimate relationship for at least three years or had a biological child  together, your relationship is common law in Ontario. 

Your Assets Are Yours to Keep

Married couples “equalize” their property when they call it quits. Common-law couples have fewer property rights. Any money, real estate or property like stocks and bonds you owned jointly is shared. Anything you brought into the relationship or acquired on your own is yours to keep. That includes real estate — you don’t have a right to the matrimonial home or any increase in its value unless you own it yourself or jointly. 

Your Inheritance Rights

Unlike married spouses, common-law partners are not entitled to property, investments or other assets a deceased spouse owned outright, unless they are named in the will. Otherwise, these assets go directly to your partner’s heirs. You keep the proceeds of joint bank accounts and homes or other real estate held in joint tenancy. Life insurance policies and registered investments only transfer to you if your partner named you as beneficiary. If they died intestate (without a will), the province will divide their assets among their children or relatives. That leaves you out in the cold.

Making a Cohabitation Agreement

But wait. There’s a better way to protect your legal and financial rights in a common-law marriage. Just like a prenuptial agreement or marriage contract, a cohabitation agreement gives you a say in how your assets are shared if you split up. It’s a written contract of your property rights, rights you would not otherwise legally have under Ontario’s Family Law Act.

What to Include in a Cohabitation Agreement

Your spouse might agree to give you some of their collectibles, in consideration for caring for them while you were together. They might have more wealth than you and set aside some investments to help you manage financially if you leave. You could agree on how to share credit card debts you co-mingled. Essentially, you can agree on almost anything, including:

  • property ownership or division
  • financial support
  • the education and moral training of your children
  • or any other matter, with some exceptions.

Leave the Kids Out 

Some topics are off limits legally. A cohabitation agreement can’t sign away your child custody or child support and spousal support rights. Your obligations to your children continue even if your common-law spouse remarries or moves away. And yes, you may have to pay or be able to get spousal support, depending on:

  • how long you lived together — at least three years or less if you had children 
  • any children you had or adopted together or acted in place of a parent for
  • your income and needs until you become self supporting
  • and your marital role — for example, if you supported your husband while he went to college or helped out in your spouse’s business. 

Don’t Sign If You Feel Coerced

It’s important to understand your legal rights before you sign a cohabitation agreement. Being coerced to sign can invalidate your cohabitation agreement. Get an independent legal opinion from your own lawyer before you agree to anything, especially if you feel pressured. Show your lawyer the draft and be sure you are happy before you commit the contents to writing. If you get legally married later, your cohabitation agreement will become a valid and enforceable marriage contract. 

Overturning a Cohabitation Agreement

Just because an agreement seemed like a good thing at the time doesn’t mean you can’t take it to court. If you were coerced to sign or think your partner was unjustly enriched at your expense — for example, succeeded in their career because you gave up your own — you could sue for compensation. Ontario family court may overturn a cohabitation agreement when your spouse hid assets, lied about their finances or you genuinely didn’t understand the nature and effect of signing (why you definitely need an independent legal opinion).

Write a Legal Cohabitation Agreement in Ontario

Axess Law Ontario family lawyers draft a marriage contract to protect your collectibles in case of  marriage breakdown. Virtual lawyers video call with you online 7 days a week, day or evening. Remote video conference appointments can be made by dialing 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or using our online booking form. Meet in person with a licensed family lawyer at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.