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We're not married. What if we can't agree on what happens to our property and debts after we separate?

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We're not married. What if we can't agree on what happens to our property and debts after we separate?
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CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Ministry of the Attorney General
Ministry of the Attorney General

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We're not married. What if we can't agree on what happens to our property and debts after we separate?
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Reviewed: 
July 31, 2017
Answer

If you and your partner cannot agree on what happens with your property and debts, with or without the help of lawyers, you have two options. You can ask a family law professional to help you resolve your issues. Or, you can go to court and ask a judge to decide.

Family law professionals

There are different types of family law professionals who can help you and your partner resolve your issues. These are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.

For example, each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person's income. You can use this service whether or not you have a court case. And if you have a court case, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation for free at the court.

These processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) because they help you solve your issues without going to court.

Go to court

If you and your partner still cannot agree even with the help of a family law professional, or if ADR is not the right option for you, one of you has to start a family law court case.

A family court makes decisions based on the family law rules and laws. Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues.

Changing the process

You don't have to stick with one of these options. Sometimes you can use both or switch from one to the other.

For example, you and your partner might not be able to solve your case with the help of a family law professional, so you decide to go to court.

Or you might start a court case first, but then you and your partner agree to pause the case while you try to reach an agreement with the help of a family law professional.

Time limit

The usual time limit to make a claim for a share of property that is not real estate, such as for an interest in your common-law partner's business or car, is 2 years after you separate.

Sometimes a court gives you more time. But you have to explain why you needed more time to make a property claim.

Domestic contract

If you signed a cohabitation agreement but one of you no longer wants to follow it, you or your partner can ask the court to make an order that divides your property in the way you agreed to in your agreement.

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