Contrary to popular misconception, marriage does matter in Ontario. While rights to spousal support are the same for married and unmarried spouses, that is not true for property. Unmarried spouses have no rights to equalization, or the sharing of wealth generated during their relationship. Unmarried spouses have no more property rights against one another than they would have with respect to a business partner and, in many cases, they may have fewer rights.
Because there are no legislated property rights for unmarried spouses, how property is owned is extremely important. The most secure situation for an unmarried spouse is to have legal title to assets. Similarly, there is no legislated sharing of debt, so unmarried spouses need to ensure that one spouse is not excessively burdened with the family debt.
It is possible for a spouse to make a claim that he or she has a beneficial ownership interest in the assets that the other holds in his or her name. Where a spouse can demonstrate that the other spouse has unjustly retained a disproportionate share of assets accumulated during the course of a joint family venture to which both partners have contributed, there may be a re-allocation between the parties at the end of the relationship. To prove this requires significant evidence of the nature of the parties’ relationship and contributions over the course of the relationship. The outcome will vary tremendously depending on the specifics of particular relationships.