Common-law union

Two unmarried people become common-law spouses when they share the same roof for over a year, or from the moment they have a child together. Regardless of the length and stability of their relationship, Quebec law does not grant them the same protections as it does to married couples.

Preferring to manage their household more freely, more and more couples in Quebec are opting for a common-law union. Indeed, cohabitation is more flexible than marriage when it comes to managing the family unit.

And yet, should the couple part ways, there’s a legal gap when it comes to the effects on their financial estate.

The purpose of a cohabitation agreement

After a separation, the common-law spouse has no right to the protection of the family residence, to the separation of assets or alimony.

They do not automatically inherit anything after the other person’s death, unless it has been arranged for ahead of time in a will.

Yet, in Quebec, nearly 40% of couples are in common-law unions, and two thirds of children are born outside of marriage. Many families therefore find themselves in a financially precarious situation following a break-up. That’s why it’s recommenced that common-law spouses plan dispositions regarding the eventual split of family assets.

To find out more, read our other articles on the declaration of family residence and wills.

The shape of the document

A cohabitation agreement can include all sorts of dispositions, as long as they are in agreement with the law. The document can be notarized or done through private signature. It’s recommended to get it notarized, however, as it will be harder to contest and will remain preciously inscribed in the notary’s minutes. As for the substantive laws, the same conditions apply as for a contract.

Two types of conventions are preferred, autonomist and participative. The former generally allows the common-law couple to decide which specific goods they wish to share (house, cottage, furniture, vehicles). The latter states that all assets acquired by the couple during their cohabitation will be separated in half, thus amounting to a matrimonial regime for married couples.  

Clearly, it is recommended to call upon a notary to prepare a cohabitation agreement. To find out more about the roles of a notary, read this article.