Why would you need a lawyer when you are in love?
We all know our brains become a little atrophied when cupid’s arrow strikes. Not only does it feel like your love will never change, but you can’t imagine anything in your life changing.
I had a lovely woman (Lila) walk into my office asking me to review a cohabitation agreement. Not unusual since statistics show that between 2006 and 2011, common law couples (those who opt to cohabitate) rose nearly 14% in Canada (more than a 40% increase than in married couples). She was a very bright and ambitious woman, stylish too. She was also in love. Lila had a simple request: she wanted me to provide her with Independent Legal Advice about the agreement that her common law spouse (Alex) had asked her to sign.
Lila was a highly sought-after graphic artist. She told me she didn’t need Alex’s money, or his house (which he owned and they both lived in), or the shares of his business (of which he was the major shareholder) – which is why she wanted to sign an agreement that said so. Alex said that he would always take care of Lila even if she signed an agreement that said she would get nothing after a break-up. His word was good enough for Lila.
I asked Lila to imagine a world 10 years from now where she and Alex have 2 kids; the same house that they now call their family home has been lovingly decorated by her; and Alex does something unimaginable, unexpected…he leaves her and the kids. Could she really walk way from her life with no strings attached?
Lila became visibly flush with this visualization. I hated to do this, but I turned up the heat. What if, in this scenario, Lila decided not to work after the birth of their first beloved child? What if Lila continued to stay home after their second child? And what if Lila discovered that it became increasingly difficult for her to re-enter the workforce?
So, here is Lila with no job, no income, 2 kids and a house that she had no rights to. Meanwhile she has helped Alex build the business that is now a multibillion-dollar conglomerate by hosting dinner parties for his associates, taking care of the kids on her own and most of all, by being there for him.
Sound scary? It could be if you don’t think carefully and clearly about what you would like to do, now and later.
Yes, money is taboo and it might kill the mood for a while. But talking about it now is not nearly as scary as the scenario I’ve drawn for Lila. It might even turn out to be good for you and your partner to learn how to tackle difficult conversations. Think of it as a manual or a playbook for “just in case.” It’s so you’ll know what to do if you separate or, worse, if something should happen to your partner.
The process is not complicated. We look at the finances at stake. We look at how any assets might be divided, or how one person will support the other if necessary. We talk about the kinds of scenarios that put you at risk.
Lots to think about? Yes.
Talk to a lawyer? Yes, preferably between falling in love…and…signing a cohabitation agreement!