GUEST COLUMN: Family Law Act changes means shakeups for relationships
We don’t need to Beware the Ides of March.
But we should be aware of March 18. On St Patrick’s Day, March 17, couples living together may go blissfully to bed, having celebrated with the Irish or not. On March 18 they wake up to changes in the Family Law Act of BC.
In a nutshell: couples living in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years will have the same property rights as married couples, should they split.
Ka-boom! That’s going to blow a few casual relationships out of the water! Some 22 year olds will be hesitating, maybe even for an hour or two, over moving in together. Some 25 year olds will remember what their dad said, “it’s easier to move in than move out.” And a few 30 year olds will take a second look at their partner’s assets. And calendars will be checked.
Did we pay half each for the big-screen TV? What about the bikes, payments on the car, student loans? What about the dog?
What about debt? After March 18 debt is shared too. Oh boy.
I heard the phrase “sliding, not deciding” a few days ago as a friend described her son and his girlfriend’s new living arrangements. Of course mum’s glad he finally moved out (he’s 28) because he needed a change, needed to live his own life. But she wonders if sharing an apartment is more a case of lust, cost and convenience than personal commitment. (They’ve known each other four months.)
Suddenly the pluses of living together have a counterpart: the consequences of sharing a home if the relationship ends. Jackass comments like, “I’m taking her for a test drive,” or “it’s half the rent and all the ASSets,” will fizzle as moving in together has greater repercussions.
Common law partners are now considered spouses. Same-sex couples too. The legal definition of spouse: married people, people cohabiting in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years, and people cohabiting less than two years who have a child together.
So, live together for three months, she becomes pregnant, he leaves, and whammo! It’s onto the division of assets, and spousal and child support. Assets include real estate, cash, RRSPs, pension benefits, cars, boats, power tools, and time-shares in Costa Rica. Property owned by a spouse prior to living together is excluded, but increase in the value of that property is considered to be part of the couple’s assets.
I’m not saying this is wrong. I think it is time to deal legally with common-law relationships in the same way as with marriages.
Not long ago it used to be “what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.” Then pre-nups came into being. Will we see “pre-habs” for the “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours,” crowd? A cohabitation agreement may become very popular. It would lay out the details in black and white, and it would make cohabitors think twice about their choices. Good idea.
She wants a trip to Hawaii, but he wants another tattoo. He wants to renovate the kitchen, but she wants to take flying lessons. Who knows the result of those discussions, but both he and she will certainly have a clearer idea of the other’s personality and expectations. There’s nothing like a money talk to highlight the differences in a couple’s thinking.
With luck, the financial discussion leads people to have a conversation about their future as a couple, so neither partner continues the relationship with unrealistic hopes. She doesn’t want children but he does? He wants to live close to family but she wants to move to Indonesia? Better to sort that out.
It’s about a month from the blissful love of Valentines Day to the thoughtful reckoning of March 18.
The new laws won’t deter couples who truly want to share their lives. And the sort of, kind of, why-not-my-friends-are-all-doing-it couples might take more time to consider.
• Anne Hopkinson is a Burnaby resident still working on the three Rs: reading, writing, and rambling.