Do you have a claim on a matrimonial home if it is owned by your in-laws?

When couples start out, they may not have a lot of money. So, sometimes they live in a house that is owned by one spouse’s parents. If that is a comfortable home, then the couple may continue to live there and the ink of the house as “their home”, even if the legal title stays in the home of the parents. When this happens, one spouse can do renovations, pay down a mortgage, pay all the taxes and maintenance, and start to really feel like an owner of the house. But, if the marriage (or common-law relationship) ends, the parents always want the house back and rarely want to share it with a son or daughter-in-law who has poured his or her soul and money into the house. IF that is your situation, is there anything you can do to get back the house that you thought was “yours”?

This is a legally complicated question. A lot of the answer depends on some very specific facts. If the situation sounds like your life, you really should see a lawyer to go over how the law applies to your specific situation.

If you contributed more to the house than you would have paid in rent, then you can make a claim in “equity” to have an interest in that house. This is a really complex claim, you can’t do it without a lawyer. It is not technically a family law claim, but a claim brought pursuant to the principles of equity, which are not technically law, but arose from the courts of equity in England centuries ago… See, it really is difficult. But the just of it is, if everyone allowed you to treat the house as if you owned part of it, and you contributed to it as if you did own it, a court can make a declaration that you are a part owner of the house. Alternatively, the court may find that you should be paid for the work you did on the house if you do not get to continue to enjoy the benefits of that work. In both cases, the court will deduct what you should have paid for rent to live there from the calculation of how much you are entitled to receive.

Another alternative is that if your ex’s family treated the house as if it actually belonged to your ex, in terms of who paid for its upkeep, no rent requirement, allowing your ex to renovate or change the house without permission, etc., then you might be able to convince the court that your ex’s family was actually holding the property in trust for your ex, that your ex is the real owner, and therefore the property should be included in your ex’s net family property for the purposes of determining the appropriate equalization payment. (If you need an explanation as to how property is divided after a marriage breakdown in Ontario, listen to this podcast

Your financial circumstances, and especially the fact that the property division has worked an unfairness, may impact on what the appropriate spousal support should be, and who pays it.

Both these claims can be really tricky, so speak to a lawyer.

Claims in equity are explained more in this easy-to-understand best-selling book about Ontario Family Law. It explains a lot of other important family law principles, explains court and the alternatives to court, and even gives some strategies as well. 

If you would like to discuss your situation and your options with John Schuman, then please use the form below. You can also use that form to provide comments on this page. If you found this page helpful, please feel free to share it on your social network using the buttons at the bottom of the page.

John Schuman Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law book cover

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.

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