Separation of Common-Law Couples: Debts and Expenses

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When common-law partners break up, debts can continue to accumulate and still have to be paid. Who is responsible for them? 

Paying Debts After a Separation

To figure out who has to pay a debt after common-law partners separate, it is important to know who the debt belongs to.

Each partner is responsible for his or her own debts, so after they separate, they don't have to help pay the other person's debts.

Example

Both the house and mortgage are in Marco's name. When they were together, Sophia used to give Marco half the mortgage payment and Marco would pay the mortgage. After they broke up, Sophia stopped giving him the money. Marco has to continue making the full mortgage payments because he's the one who signed the mortgage with the bank.

Different Rules Apply to Debts Belonging to Both Partners

After common-law partners separate, both of them are responsible for debts they signed for together. The contract for the debt will say how much each partner owes.

Even if the partners agree that only one of them will pay certain debts, the person they owe the money to can't be forced to accept this arrangement.

Example

While they were living together, Marco and Sophia bought a sound system. They signed a contract with company XYZ to finance the purchase. After they broke up, they decided that Marco would keep the sound system and that he would make the monthly payments to XYZ. If Marco doesn't make the payments, Sophia is still responsible to XYZ because her name is on the contract. To avoid this type of situation, Sophia and Marco could try to negotiate an agreement with XYZ so that Marco is the only one responsible for the debt.

Paying Certain Debts After Separation

Everyday Expenses That One Partner Doesn't Benefit From

After a separation, one partner is allowed to stop paying for the everyday expenses she was taking care of when they lived together. To do this, she must first reach an agreement with the service provider.

Example

The house is in Marco's name. When Sophia moved in with him, she agreed to pay the electricity bill. All of the electricity bills are in Sophia's name only. Now that they are separated, Sophia can let Hydro-Québec know she no longer wants to pay for the electricity service to Marco's house. But she must continue to pay until Hydro-Québec changes the account to Marco's name. In the meantime, if Marco is benefiting from the electricity service that Sophia has paid for, she can ask him to pay her back.

Expenses for Children

Each partner has to contribute to expenses concerning the children based on his or her salary and other sources of income.

After they separate, one partner will have to make support payments to the other to cover his or her share of these expenses.   

Joint Credit Cards and Bank Accounts

Usually, money in a joint bank account must be divided equally. If one partner spends the other's share, the person who lost out can ask a judge for an order that the share be reimbursed.

For a joint credit card, the partners can call the bank together to cancel it. If one partner uses the card after the separation, the other partner can ask the user to pay for all of these charges, and can sue for any payments he or she made on behalf of the user.

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.