Partners may have questions about the law and how to divide property at the end of a relationship. Family law can be complicated, and understanding the law, as well as your options, is an important first step. This article contains information for those who lived together in a common-law relationship.
In Alberta, there is no one particular law that governs property division for unmarried couples. The Matrimonial Property Act governs how property will be divided if a marriage breaks down. It applies only to those who have been legally married and therefore does not apply to those who are not married.
To learn about division of property as it relates to those who were legally married, see our companion article.
Unlike married couples, in which property is usually divided equally when couples separate or divorce, there is no presumption that property will be divided equally between unmarried partners when the relationship ends. In general, property bought during the relationships belongs to the person who paid for it and who is registered as its owner.
In some cases, it may not be fair, to allow one partner to keep all property that’s in his or her name. If one partner has contributed in a non-financial way to the property, it would be unfair for the other to keep that asset. The partner who made the contributions may make a claim for unjust enrichment, which occurs when one partner is enriched at the expense of the other. The claimant asks a judge to divide the value of the property based on what’s fair. If one partner has been unjustly enriched, the judge will try to assign a value on the non-financial contributions. The claimant must prove that
- the owner gained something
- the non-owner suffered a loss
- there is no legal reason for the gain or the loss
In other instances, partners may buy property together: that property is jointly owned and will usually be divided, with the value shared between the partners. If the joint property is real estate, the Law of Property Act lets either partner apply for an order to help with the division, whether it involves
- physical division of land
- selling the property
- dividing proceeds from the sale of the property between the partners
- letting one partner buy out the other
Common-law couples can enter into agreements about how property will be divided should their relationship end. Although the Matrimonial Property Act applies only to couples who were legally married, unmarried couples should also follow the same rules: this ensures that any agreement they enter is enforceable.
Once you and your spouse have come to an agreement, you need to ensure that it is enforceable. This means that you and your spouse must each meet with a separate lawyer and acknowledge that
- you are aware of the nature and the effect of the agreement
- you are willing to give up possible future claims to the other partner’s property
- you are executing the agreement freely and voluntarily, and not being pressured into signing
Property division is complicated. Consult with the Lift Legal team of family lawyers. We’ll work to protect your rights, help you understand what rights you may or may not be giving up, and ensure that your agreement is legally binding.
The information on this blog and website is provided by Lift Legal for educational purposes only. It is intended to give readers a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. Information contained in these pages should not be used in place of competent legal advice from a licensed, practising lawyer in Alberta. Furthermore, by using this blog and website, you understand that no lawyer-client relationship exists between you and Lift Legal.