information to help you make good financial decisions in your personal relationships
Relationships can mean different things to different people. You can have important relationships with people you live with, who you are related to, who you raise kids with, the person you love, or the person or people you share your life with. You can be in a relationship with someone you consider to be your friend, to be your boyfriend, girlfriend, common-law spouse, partner, or husband or wife. Often people who are in significant relationships share money and expenses, and depend on each other financially.
Many laws affect your financial rights and responsibilities within your relationships. In Ontario most of the laws apply to two-person relationships and some laws apply differently to married couples than to partners who are not married. Either way, these laws can affect you financially when you enter a new relationship and when you end one.
Even when you are happily entering a new relationship, it is important to plan ahead, to be aware of what you are entitled to if the relationship ends, and to know the laws and how they relate to your situation.
This guide outlines the financial rights and responsibilities of people in relationships in Ontario and highlights the differences for married women and women who are in spousal relationships but are not married. For more legal information about topics that are not covered by this guide, see “Where to get help when you need it”.
The information on this website is general legal information only. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about individual situations.
Arbitration: A process for resolving disputes where an outside person, called an arbitrator, decides how to resolve the issues. When the arbitrator makes a decision on the issues in the dispute, their decision is final.
Cohabitation Agreement: A contract between spouses that describes the terms of their spousal relationship and how to settle issues between them if their relationship ends.
Child support: An amount of money that one parent must pay to the other parent to help cover the costs of raising their children. A person doesn’t have to be a biological parent to pay child support. Step-parents or someone else acting as a parent can also pay child support.
Domestic Contract: A general name for any written contract that describes the terms of relationships and separations. Domestic contracts include cohabitation agreements, marriage contracts, and separation agreements.
Division of Property: A process that spouses use at the end of a spousal relationship to divide what they own, including physical things and any financial assets.
Economic Abuse: A form of abuse where the abuser controls their partner by making it difficult for them to be financially independent.
Matrimonial Home: Any home that a couple owned and lived in together as spouses immediately before separation.
Mediation: A process for resolving disputes at the end of a relationship using a mediator. The job of the mediator is to help people talk to each other and find a way to agree about how to settle their disagreements.
Marriage Contract: A written agreement between spouses that outlines the terms of the spousal relationship and how to settle issues between them if the relationship ends.
Separation Agreement: A contract between spouses who are separating that outlines how to settle the issues between them.
Spouse: The legal name for people in relationships that involve emotional and financial dependence. Usually “spouse” refers to couples in long term romantic relationships. Different laws have different criteria for what constitutes spouse.
Spousal Support: An amount of money a spouse with the higher income pays to the other spouse when their relationship ends.
When do laws dealing with money treat married couples and unmarried couples differently?
Many laws affect the financial rights and responsibilities of couples. Some of these laws apply differently to married couples than to couples that aren’t married. For example, the law says that married couples have to divide their property equally when they separate regardless of what each person owns. The law doesn’t require unmarried couples to equally split their property.
For more information about how laws affect married and unmarried couples differently, see When the relationship ends: Know your rights and responsibilities.
When is my partner considered my common-law spouse?
Different laws in Ontario define common-law spouses differently. Some laws require you to live with your partner for 3 months or 1 year and other laws require you to live with your partner for 3 years.
For a detailed comparison of how different laws define common-law or unmarried spouses, see Know how the law defines married and unmarried spouses.
Where can I get help if my partner is abusive?
There are many different services and organizations in Ontario that can help women who are experiencing abuse. Ontario Works also offers women financial support if they are leaving an abusive partner.
Contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline for more information or see the table above.
How can I protect my rights before moving in with my partner?
It is important to plan ahead and talk to your partner when entering a new relationship. One way to protect your interests is for you and your partner to sign a cohabitation agreement or a marriage contract.
For more information about these agreements and what they should include, see Talk to your partner and create your own agreement.
How can I protect my rights when I’m separating from my partner?
It is important to know what you are entitled to when breaking up with a partner. Once you know your rights, there are many different ways to settle the legal issues between you. What is right for you will depend on your individual situation. Some couples may choose to resolve their issues without using the legal system, while other couples will go to court to settle their issues.
For more information see When the relationship ends: protect your interests.
Do same-sex partners have the same rights as opposite-sex partners?
Yes. Same-sex partners, or gay couples, whether married or unmarried, have all the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples, or straight couples that are married or unmarried.
How do we divide our property and money if our relationship ends?
The law in Ontario dealing with the division of property when couples break up is different for married couples than it is for unmarried couples. Married couples have to split all of the property and money they’ve acquired since they have been married. Generally couples that aren’t married don’t have to divide their property equally. Ontario property laws don’t apply to people living on First Nation reserves.
For more information see When the relationship ends, know your rights and responsibilities.
Can I get child support from my kid’s other parent?
Under Ontario law, every parent is financially responsible for their children under the age of 18, and sometimes even longer if the child is in school or has special health needs. The parent who lives with the children has the right to child support from the other parent. If a child lives some of the time with both parents, the parent who makes the most money may have to pay child support to the other parent. The law sets out the amount of child support to be paid.
For more information, see Rights and responsibilities for child support.
Can I get spousal support from my former partner?
The law in Ontario requires both married and unmarried couples to help each other be financially independent when they break up. Unmarried spouses have to live together for 3 years in order to owe each other support when their relationship ends. The amount of spousal support one person has to pay depends on what the dependant spouse needs and what the wealthier spouse can pay.
For more information, see Rights and responsibilities for spousal support.
What if my partner cheated on me or treated me badly?
The law about money and relationships in Ontario doesn’t generally change if one person in a couple treated the other badly. For example, the amount of spousal support or child support that you are entitled to doesn’t change if your partner lies to you or cheats on you.
However, a judge may create exceptions in property division and spousal support if one person is hiding money or lying about their assets to avoid paying the other person after they break up. If you believe this is the case, you should contact a lawyer.
Judges can also grant exceptions to property division and support can also be granted if your former partner is abusive. If you are dealing with an abusive person, you should consult a lawyer. For confidential support, and to find help in your area call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or TTY: 1-866-863-7868.
Can I continue to live in my home if my relationship ends?
Who continues to live in the home will depend on whose name is on the lease or the deed, and whether or not the couple is married.
When couples are married, the family home legally belongs to both spouses no matter whose name is on the deed. Both spouses have an equal right to live in the home when a marriage ends, and if the couple can’t decide who will live there, they can ask a judge to decide.
If a couple is not married the person whose name is on the lease or the deed will have a right to the home. However, women who are victims of abuse can apply to stay in the home even when the home is not in their name.
For more information, see Rights to the home where you live.
Do I need a lawyer if my relationship ends?
When couples separate, they do not always need a lawyer to settle the issues between them. However, it is useful to have a lawyer help you understand your rights and responsibilities.
Family Law Information Centres can provide free legal advice on certain family law issues and can help people find a family law lawyer.
See the tables on this page for information about Legal Aid Ontario, and Family Law Information Centres.
1. Talk to your partner and make your own agreement
2. Economic abuse in relationships
3. Living with a partner: know your rights and responsibilities
4. When a relationship ends: know your rights and responsibilities
5. When the relationship ends: protect your interests
This project was made possible with the generous financial support of The Law Foundation of Ontario.