Vancouver Family Lawyers Providing Trusted Advice on Domestic Agreements

Domestic agreements set out each spouse’s rights and responsibilities during the life of their relationship and after separation. These agreements help avoid misunderstandings between a couple, set boundaries and expectations, and provide a guideline for resolving disputes.

The proactive family and divorce lawyers at Meridian Law Group draft and review domestic agreements that address each client’s unique needs. Clients enjoy peace of mind by knowing their interests are protected, and they are positioned for success in the event of future litigation.

Cohabitation Agreements

A cohabitation agreement is a proactive and pragmatic tool for unmarried or common-law couples and documents a variety of elements affecting their relationship. A couple’s cohabitation agreement can form the basis of a marriage agreement if they decide to marry formally.

In addition to the parties’ agreements on matters during their relationship, a cohabitation agreement also addresses what happens if they separate. The terms of the cohabitation agreement can be incorporated into a later separation agreement or divorce order.

Common Cohabitation Agreement Terms

The matters addressed in a cohabitation agreement vary depending on each couple’s circumstances but may include:

  • How the spouses will split the property they each individually brought into the relationship, as well as the division of property or wealth accumulated during the relationship;
  • Whether either spouse will be entitled to spousal support, and if so, how much and for how long;
  • How the couple shares household expenses;
  • What purchases are to be made solely or jointly; and
  • The parties’ entitlement to the possession or ownership of the family home upon separation.

Unmarried partners who qualify as common-law spouses under British Columbia’s family laws share the same property rights as married couples after a separation or divorce. Therefore, it is vital for couples to obtain independent legal advice to secure their rights and entitlements before signing a cohabitation agreement.

Separation Agreements

Separation agreements are critical for establishing each spouse’s obligations and entitlements after a separation or divorce. They document the agreements reached between the parties through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution processes, including mediation and arbitration. If the parties have a pre-existing marriage or cohabitation agreement, its terms may form the basis for their separation agreement.

Issues Addressed in a Separation Agreement

Separation agreements set out several matters between spouses, including:

  • Property division, including bank accounts, investments, pensions, real estate, family businesses, or any other assets or debts qualifying as family property under British Columbia’s Family Law Act;
  • The possession or sale of the family home;
  • Support obligations, including child and spousal support;
  • The apportionment of parenting time (formerly known as “access”);
  • Each parent’s parental or decision-making responsibilities (formerly known as “custody”);
  • Guardianship of the couple’s children, if applicable;
  • Contact between the children and any other person, including grandparents;
  • Rules regarding communication between the parties, if needed;
  • Circumstances that trigger a need to vary or change the terms of the separation agreement (for example, a spouse’s change of employment or new marriage); and
  • The method used to resolve disputes arising from the interpretation or application of the separation agreement.

Requirements for a Valid Domestic Agreement

Domestic agreements must meet the requirements for any written agreement under British Columbia’s Family Law Act. They must be in writing, signed in the presence of witnesses, and explain the jurisdiction that applies to its terms in case of a dispute. Parties should be wary of using template agreements as they may not comply with the requirements for a legal, valid contract under the laws of British Columbia.

A domestic agreement is only as effective as the knowledge upon which it is based. A court may invalidate a domestic agreement if the spouses have not exchanged thorough, honest, and up-to-date financial disclosure. An agreement may also be vulnerable to judicial scrutiny if either spouse signed without first obtaining independent legal advice or was under duress to sign. Portions of the contract can be invalidated if they contain a legal error or are fundamentally unfair.

Template Domestic Agreements

In an effort to reduce legal fees, couples may choose to use a pre-written template for their cohabitation or separation agreement. These agreements can cause significant problems as legislation varies greatly from province to province (and country to country), and a template may not meet the requirements of British Columbia’s family laws.

Given the essential legal issues at stake, having a qualified family lawyer draft a domestic agreement ensures it reflects the parties’ relationship and represents their rights and obligations under the law. When properly drafted by a lawyer, an agreement can also mitigate the risk of future conflict and reduce the likelihood of a costly challenge in court.

Contact Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Thorough Assistance with Domestic Agreements

Meridian Law Group is known for its exceptional, client-driven service. The firm creates durable, comprehensive domestic agreements that give clients the confidence of knowing their family’s needs and interests are protected. When an agreement has already been made, Meridian Law Group will thoroughly review it to ensure it correctly reflects the client’s rights and family dynamic.

Located in the prominent Nelson Square Building in downtown Vancouver, the lawyers of Meridian Law Group have been a mainstay of the British Columbia legal community for over 30 years. The firm proudly serves clients in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia and Canada. Meridian Law Group also offers quality representation to international clients. To speak with an experienced family lawyer or arrange a confidential consultation, please call (604) 687-2277 or reach out online.