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Mediation can help Ontario common-law couples that separate

It bears repeating that Ontario law treats the dissolution of legal marriage and that of a common-law union very differently. That said, some common-law relationships endure for decades, and, as in formal marriages, accumulate property and assets, and, along the way, parent children. In such cases, mediation may provide invaluable information on the legal differences as well as helping to reduce conflict.

A family law practice which offers professional mediation to its clients frequently has resources available to address issues common to both formal and common-law unions. Examples are child custody and access, and property and debt sharing and division. Yet, without guidance, a common-law couple planning to dissolve a longstanding living arrangement may be shocked at the stark contrast in the legal treatment of the very same issues, according to whether or not the union is a legal one.

In particular, property division and debt sharing in a common-law relationship is largely based on ownership coming into the partnership, rather than when leaving it. In the dissolution of a formal union, however, whatever was shared at the time of legal separation is expected to be divided equally. This is a legal distinction essential to know and would be a welcome and time-saving piece of information available during the mediation process.

A separating common-law couple, especially if they have been together a long time or have children, would do well to consult an Ontario family law lawyer with experience in mediation. While they could opt for a judge to decide matters for them, mediation could provide a secure and balanced forum toward cordial agreement, and foreshorten court time. A family law practitioner working with a team of mediators might show the way forward through the maze of legal distinctions embedded in Ontario law.

Source:, "We're not married. What if we can't agree on what happens to our property and debts after we separate?", Accessed on Nov. 21, 2017

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