Matrimonial Regimes: Rules for Managing and Dividing Property

Ibrakovic / iStock / Thinkstock

When two people get married, certain rules apply to them automatically depending on their matrimonial regime. These rules concern financial aspects of their relationship while they are married. 

Couples can choose their matrimonial regimes. A matrimonial regime sets the rules for managing property and debts accumulated during marriage and how they will be divided up if they divorce or if one of them dies. Often, couples only discover all of the consequences of their matrimonial regimes at the end of a marriage.

Couples in a civil union also have a matrimonial regime. The rules are the same. However, it's called a civil- union regime instead of a matrimonial regime because a civil union is not the same thing as a marriage.

Couples in a common-law relationship don't have a matrimonial regime because matrimonial regimes only apply to married couples and civil-union couples. Each common-law partner manages his or her own property, and if they separate, their property is not divided. However, they can enter into a contract to create a regime that applies specifically to their situation.

A matrimonial regime is different from the family patrimony, but both apply once a couple is married.

Marriage  

Family Patrimony   

(Created automatically, applies to everyone)   

+

Matrimonial Regime

(Created automatically, spouses can choose their regime)

These are three main matrimonial regimes in Quebec:

 

What the Matrimonial Regime Means

During the Marriage

The different matrimonial regimes have different rules concerning the rights and powers of the spouses over their property. For example, there are rules on how the property belonging to the spouses and the family is managed, how the property can be used, and who is responsible for debts accumulated during the marriage.

The matrimonial regime helps to determine, for example, whether one spouse can sell, lease, mortgage or give away property without the other spouse’s agreement.

Exceptions to Consider for all Matrimonial Regimes

  1. Family Residence
    The protection of the family residence applies to all married couples. For example, the agreement of both spouses is needed to sell, rent or mortgage the family residence or give it to someone as a gift, even if only one spouse owns the property.
     
  2. Family's Everyday Needs
    Both spouses are responsible, together, for all the debts they take on during the marriage to pay for the family's everyday needs. This means one spouse is allowed to take on expenses for the family without the permission of the other spouse. The other spouse is also responsible for these debts, unless she notifies the person or company the debt is owed to in advance that she isn't responsible for repaying her spouse's debts.

At the End of the Marriage

A matrimonial regime ends

  • in divorce (married couple) or when a civil union is dissolved (couple in a civil union),
  • with legal separation, or
  • when one spouse dies.

At the end of the marriage, each spouse is free to accept or refuse the division of the property.

All of the property the spouses accumulate while they are married is divided at the end of the marriage according to the rules of the spouses' matrimonial regime, except for property included in what is called the family patrimony. Under certain matrimonial regimes, the VALUE of the property is divided; under other regimes, the OWNERSHIP of the property is divided.

Important! If you are not living with your spouse, in the eyes of the law you are still legally married or in a civil union in these situations:

  • You are married but don’t have a court decision ordering a divorce or legal separation.
  • You are in a civil union but don’t have a court decision or a notarized declaration of the dissolution of your union. 

The law considers that your separation is a “de facto separation.”

 

Property Included in the Matrimonial Regime

The property included in the matrimonial regime is any property that isn't part of the family patrimony. The word "property" also includes debts.

Here are some examples of property that spouses might acquire during the marriage and that is included in their matrimonial regime:

  • money saved during the marriage and the spouses' salaries
  • income property and rent
  • investments (except RRSPs and retirement plans included in the family patrimony)
  • property they own that is not used by the family, and
  • credit card debt and personal loans.
The date the property was obtained (that is, before or after the marriage) is important. Therefore, people who plan to get married can prepare an inventory of property and debts before the marriage. The inventory can be useful in the case of divorce or the death of a spouse because it lists the property accumulated before the marriage. A notary or lawyer can help you with this step.

 

Indentifying Your Matrimonial Regime

If you signed a marriage contract in front of a notary, your matrimonial regime is the one stated in the contract.

If you DID NOT sign a marriage contract in front of a notary, or if your marriage contract doesn't mention a matrimonial regime, then your regime depends on when you were married:

 

Choosing Your Matrimonial Regime

Spouses and future spouses can choose their matrimonial regime or create one that specifically fits their situation, if the rules of the regime aren’t against the law. A notarized marriage contract must state which matrimonial regime applies. A notary can help the spouses, make sure everything is legal and give them appropriate advice.

 

Changing Your Matrimonial Regime

Spouses can agree to change their matrimonial regime, before or during the marriage. This change is made through a notarized marriage contract

For example, two people married under the regime of partnership of acquests can sign a marriage contract during their marriage to change their regime to separation as to property. In this case, any property acquired between the date of the marriage and the date the regime was changed is partitioned (as it would be in the case of a divorce).

 

Regimes Outside Quebec

Couples who were both living outside Quebec when they were married might have a different matrimonial regime from the ones discussed in this article. 

Couples might also have a different matrimonial regime if one of the spouses was living outside Quebec when they were married and their first common home was outside Quebec.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.