How Is Property Divided When Common Law Couples Separate? Do They Have to Share All the Assets They Own Together?

A lot of common-law spouses ask about how their assets are divided when they break up. In Ontario, the law is different for common-law couples than it is for married couples. For common-law couples, it is more complicated. You probably should go over your situation in detail with a family lawyer. However, this page will give you some general information and some links you can follow to get more information.

First, being common-law, even after 3 years, is not the same as being married. See this page.

The parts of the Family Law Act that apply to property division for married spouses do not apply to common-law couples in Ontario. Your rights to each other’s property are the same as any two other people.

Whose name is on the title is not always the answer to the question of who owns a piece of property – especially for common law couples. This is where things get complicated. A person who is not on title can get a court to say that he or she has partial ownership of a property, even if she is not on title if that person contributed something of value to that property (money or work) without being compensated in some way – either by way of pay, free rent, or similar.

The opposite is also true. If two people are on title, but one of them has contributed nothing (or very little) in terms of money or work to the property, a court may say that person’s interest is very small (maybe 10% instead of 50%) or in extreme cases, that the person has no interest at all in the property.

There is also the concept of a “joint family venture” where one spouse puts all his or her effort into some asset to develop it for the whole family, the family may get an interest in the property, even if they did not contribute to it directly. That would be particularly true if money (or a spouse’s time) were taken away from the family to go into that asset. This is a relatively new idea in family law, so how it applies to specific situations is not entirely clear.

So, the answer to your question is complicated. You should speak to a good family lawyer about it. The Law Society recommends certified specialists for complicated legal questions. It may be possible to get a common-law spouse off title to a property without giving him anything because he put nothing into the house. Or, a common-law spouse may give up her interest in a “family” house in exchange for the other spouse not making a claim against a property that the first spouse owns. Or, if the first spouse sacrificed to raise the kids, that spouse may be entitled to spousal support (watch this video or read this page). If that is the case, the second spouse may give up the house if the first does not go after spousal support. These options may or may not be good deals depending on a lot of other factors.

All these topics are also covered in much more detail in this easy-to-understand best-selling book on Ontario Family Law. Obviously, you could lose a lot of money in a separation if you do not plan properly, so it is worth your while to get more information.

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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