When common-law couples break up, they must settle some important issues, such as issues involving their children and how to divide their property.
This article explains
- how the law can help the partners reach an agreement or settle a conflict, and
- the main issues to settle after a breakup.
Do you have a cohabitation contract?
Common-law couples can agree on each partner’s responsibilities while they live together. They can also agree in advance about how to handle some issues if they break up. They can do this by signing a written agreement called a cohabitation contract.
If you have this kind of contract, it is important to check what it says. If you don’t have a contract, you will have to settle these issues at the time of your breakup.
Agreeing on Important Issues
Unlike married couples, common-law couples don’t need a court decision to make their separation official. You can settle all the issues that arise when you break up without going to court. But sometimes it’s a good idea to have a lawyer or notary help you.
You can also go to a family mediator who can help you reach an agreement. If you have children, find out whether you are entitled to free mediation sessions.
Once you’ve reached an agreement, you can put it in writing and ask a lawyer or notary to check that your rights and your partner’s rights are respected.
You can also ask a court to approve your agreement. The law calls this “homologation.” This can be important in some situations, for example, if you want Revenu Québec to collect child support payments.
If You Can’t Agree
Sometimes common-law couples can’t agree about how to deal with issues after their breakup. So they can ask a judge to decide.
If they can’t agree on issues involving the children, they must attend a free information session on parenting and mediation before they can go before a judge.
Important Issues to Settle
Common-law couples have to settle many issues when they break up. The most important ones are issues involving the children and issues involving money and property.
Issues Involving the Children
These are the issues involving the children that must be settled after a breakup:
- child custody (living arrangements)
- the rights of the parent who does not have custody, including visiting rights
- child support
After they separate, both parents keep parental authority over their children. They must continue to discuss all important issues involving the children. This is true even if only one parent has custody.
All decisions involving the children must be made in their best interest.
Issues Involving Property
As a general rule, the partners keep their own property, even if they bought it when they were living together or the family used it. The property is not divided.
But the partners can still agree on these things:
- who gets to stay in the house or rental housing the couple lived in when they were together
- how to divide the house if it belongs to both partners
- how to divide the furniture and other property that belongs to both partners
- how to divide expenses and debts
- how to divide employment earnings under the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) that were accumulated while the couple lived together
- how to divide ”supplemental” pension plans (plans through an employer)
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who owns what. Sometimes couples buy items together. In these cases, each person has a right to keep the item in return for paying the other person half its value.
Receipts and bank records can help show whether the item was bought before the couple was living together, or bought by only one of the partners.
Important! Common-law couples who separate don’t have some protections that married couples have when they divorce. They don’t have a right to a division of property. And they don’t benefit from the protection of the family home. To learn more, read our article Common-Law Couples: Making a Life Together Without Being Married.
Financial Support and Compensation
Common-law partners don’t have the right to support payments for themselves unless they agree on it.
But some financial compensation is possible. This can happen when one partner was placed at a financial disadvantage for the benefit of the other partner and there was no reason for it. Financial compensation is also possible when a couple invested together in a business as partners.
To get financial compensation, some very specific requirements must be met. It’s best to consult a lawyer or notary.
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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.