For many clients entering our offices, the date of marriage may seem like a distant memory, or perhaps a day they would prefer not to remember at all. But no matter how much you may want to forget it, your marriage date remains significant in the eyes of the law.
When two people enter into a marriage, under Ontario law each spouse becomes entitled to an equal share of the “profits” of that marriage. In Ontario family law, the profits of a marriage are referred to as the net family property. When the marriage breaks down, either spouse can apply to the court for equalization of that net family property.
Marriage marks the start of the spouses’ legal entitlement to shared family property. With some narrow exceptions, the court does not care what happened in your relationship before the date of marriage. Part 1 of Ontario’s Family Law Act, which governs the division of property, does not apply to unmarried couples, and it is only concerned with marital property.
It is important to realize that in this respect, the law may not reflect the reality of your relationship. Traditionally, marriage was the start of a new life for a couple. Newlyweds would be moving in together for the first time, combining finances for the first time, and purchasing new belongings and perhaps a new home for their life together.
In contrast, for many couples today, marriage is a mere formality that follows after years of living together. Rather than marking the official beginning of a new life, the marriage ceremony is the celebration and affirmation of a relationship the couple entered into long before.
If the spouses lived together for an extended period of time before marriage, their lives and financial situations might have changed dramatically during those years of cohabitation. One partner might have put the other through school, supported the other while he or she looked for a job, or helped the other build a business. The couple may have already purchased, and even sold, a home together. The partners may have felt they were building net family property together for many years before the actual date of marriage.
However, the law does not take those pre-marital events into account. You should keep that fact in mind if you are considering moving in with your partner, or if you are currently living in a common law relationship. You might not even be thinking about a marriage date at this point, but remember: your financial circumstances on that date, if and when it comes around, will affect your entitlement if the marriage breaks down.
If you would like to speak with one of our lawyers regarding further issues related to this topic please contact us at (416) 840-1475 or schedule your free initial consultation here.