No one plans the end of a serious relationship. In the name of love, we hope against all odds (those odds being about 1 in 2 of survival) that our partnerships are strong enough to last. But, still things happen. Whatever the reason, relationships end.
You can save yourself a lot of additional stress during a difficult time by planning ahead and writing up a marriage contract or cohabitation agreement with your partner. Together you can discuss all the details and determine exactly how you want the separation of your lives to go down…should you not quite make it to happily ever after.
How-to: Marriage contracts & cohabitation agreements
A marriage contract (also known as a prenuptial agreement), and a cohabitation agreement are legal documents that allow married and common law couples to basically override default family laws – or lack thereof in the case of common law – that would normally govern their separation. A marriage contract and a cohabitation agreement are basically the same thing; the cohabitation agreement would be for non-married couples. If you’re unsure if you are currently in a common law relationship, or unclear on what being married or in a common law relationship means for division of property, check out this post here.
To make a marriage contract or a cohabitation agreement legal and binding documents, they must be: in writing, signed by both persons in the relationship, and witnessed by two additional people (any two adults work). If you have some paper, a pen, and two witnesses, you technically can do this on your own as a couple. However, it’s highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer before you sign any legal document. Including a marriage contract or cohabitation agreement.
Seek legal advice, seriously!
Although the contract/agreement sounds fairly straightforward, seeking the advice of a lawyer can ensure you haven’t overlooked any important details. For example, the law will recognize certain decisions you have agreed upon in your contract/agreement, but for other issues it won’t. Division of finances, pensions, property, and spousal support – is all fair game. However, decisions regarding child custody or support, is not. This is in order to protect children’s rights, and these decisions have to be decided after the relationship is over.
You can change and alter your agreement over time, but it must be signed and witnessed again. If you disagree with the contract/agreement, and cannot resolve the issue amongst yourselves, you may have to dispute it in court with a judge. Which is another great reason why you should each individually consult with a lawyer before signing either of these legal documents.
We all wish for happily ever after, but if we look at the stats, only about 50% of us are going to make it. So here’s to being realistic and being prepared. Speak with your partner, speak with a lawyer, and have a say in your financial future.