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Are you dating, moving in with a new partner, or thinking about getting remarried, perhaps following a separation, divorce or death of a spouse?
This is a good place to start for answers to some of the questions you may have in entering a new relationship.
Asset – A legal term for property. This can mean anything of value, such as a house, vehicle, or bank account.
Cohabitation agreement – A contract between common law spouses which sets out the details of property ownership, how property will be divided upon separation, and any support obligation between the spouses.
Common law relationship - A common law relationship occurs when two people live together in a 'marriage-like' relationship. This means that they are not married but they share a home, refer to themselves in public as spouses or partners, and share things like bills and other finances.
Consent - Before engaging in sexual activity with someone, the law requires that you take reasonable steps to be sure the other person agrees freely.
Joint tenancy – Joint tenancy means that two or more people own property together, such as a house or bank account. The owners have equal right to use and control the property. If one owner wants to sell the property, any other owners must agree.
Marriage contract – A contract between legally married spouses which sets out the details of property ownership, how property will be divided upon separation, and any support obligation between the spouses.
Registered domestic partnership – Any two people who are living in a common law relationship can register their relationship with the province as a registered domestic partnership. This gives common law partners many, but not all, of the same rights as married spouses.
You can find more information on registered domestic partners at https://novascotia.ca/sns/access/vitalstats/domestic-partnership.asp.
Tenancy in common – A tenancy in common means that two or more people each own part of a shared asset. Their shares may not have the same value. Each owner can use their share how they like or sell it without permission from any other owner.
What safety steps should I take if I’m meeting someone for the first time?
While dating and meeting new people is fun, there are fraudsters who try to take advantage of these situations. Until you get to know your new friend better, here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
- Consider going out with a group of friends.
- Arrange to meet in a public place such as a café.
- Do not offer to pick the person up in your car, and do not arrange to have them pick you up at your home.
- Tell someone where you are going and arrange to call that person when you get home.
- Do not tell your new friend about your finances.
- Do not reveal too much personal information until you get to know the person better.
- Do not agree to lend money.
- Be wary if the person tries to talk you into investing in a scheme.
What should I know about safety and meeting someone online?
There are thousands of internet chat rooms and dating sites. You can also download dating apps on a tablet or smartphone. Many people meet romantic partners online, but you should be aware of the possibility that someone you meet online may not be who they say they are. A fraudster may create a fake online identity to trick someone into providing personal information. This is called “catfishing”.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
- Do not give out your address, workplace, phone number, or other private information.
- Consider using a seniors-only dating site.
- Ask someone you trust to review your profile and make sure it does not reveal private information.
Many public libraries and community centres in Nova Scotia offer free computer courses which can help you learn more about using technology and the internet. Visit getcybersafe.gc.ca under 'Seniors Online' for more information.
What do I need to know before entering into an intimate relationship?
When starting a new relationship, it is important to make sure both people are open and honest about what they are looking for in a partner. Some people may be interested in starting an intimate relationship, while others may be looking for companionship and nothing more.
Words or actions can show that a person does not consent to sexual activity. Actions like struggling or trying to leave show that a person does not consent. Anyone is entitled to say no to any activity at any time. Agreeing to sexual activity on one occasion does not mean that a person has agreed to engage in that activity again in the future. Someone who is intoxicated may not be able to consent.
If you are thinking about engaging in sexual activity with a new partner, you may wish to discuss safe sex with your partner, your doctor, or another person you trust, or do some research online. Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among seniors in Canada have risen in recent years, but you can take steps to protect yourself.
If I have been dating someone new, do they have a right to my property or money?
No. Dating someone does not give them any rights to your assets. You do not have to support each other financially.
How will my rights change if we decide to live together?
Being in a common law relationship is not the same as being legally married. For instance, you will not have an automatic right to half of one another’s property if you separate or if one of you passes away.
The length of time required to establish a common law relationship varies. For example, the Canada Pension Plan says that to be a ‘common law partner’ you must live with your partner for at least one year. Some other laws, like Nova Scotia's Parenting and Support Act, do not consider you to be in a common law relationship until you have lived with your partner for two years.
If you live with a partner and depend on them for financial support, they may have a legal duty to support you if the relationship ends. But there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Generally, when a common law relationship ends, each partner is entitled to keep what they brought into the partnership. Assets that have been purchased together should be split equally. However, in real life, it is not always easy to sort out who paid for what.
If you and your former partner cannot agree on how to split up your property when you separate, you may apply to the court for a court order to divide the property. In every case, former common law partners should have legal advice involving common law property division and for support claims.
If you die without leaving a will, your common law spouse may not receive any of your property. Your property is distributed to the people considered to be your nearest blood relatives as set out in the Intestate Succession Act. Your common law spouse would have to apply to the courts for financial support. For more information on wills, see the section Wills. Common law spouses are not included on the Intestate Succession Act distribution list unless they have a registered domestic partnership.
If you plan to move in with your partner, you should talk to a lawyer about how this might change your situation.
If my partner moves in, who owns the things we buy together?
You both do. If you and your partner buy something together, such as furniture or a car, you both own it. If you bought something on your own, it remains your property. Make sure you keep proof of payments (such as receipts) and indicate who paid for the item. You may want to include them in a cohabitation agreement.
How can I protect my property after we move in together or get married?
The best way to protect your property if you move in together is to ask your lawyer about a cohabitation agreement. This is a written agreement between you and your partner that sets out your rights and responsibilities to each other. This can include who owns the property, how property will be divided if you separate, and your support obligations.
If you decide to get married, you could have a marriage contract. This is an agreement between two married people that sets out who owns what property. This type of contract is often called a pre-nuptial agreement, or “pre-nup” for short.
You need a lawyer to write your cohabitation agreement or marriage contract. Your lawyer will explain how your agreement or contract will affect your rights and responsibilities. You should each talk to a different lawyer.
How should I protect myself if my partner and I have a joint bank account?
Many couples keep some of their money separate by having their own personal accounts as well as a joint account. They use the joint account to pay household bills and joint purchases.
There are two types of joint accounts. A joint account with tenancy in common is an arrangement where each person on the account has a share of the money in the account. The shares do not have to be equal. When you separate or divorce, your share is protected and is yours to take with you. If you die, your share is left to your beneficiaries. This type of joint account is subject to probate tax when an account holder dies.
The other type of joint account is a joint tenancy. This means the account holders each have an equal right to use and control the money in the account. When you separate or divorce, the money must be divided equally, even if one person contributed more or less than the other. When one of the owners dies, the remaining owner automatically owns the deceased person’s portion of the assets. This is called right of survivorship.
Joint tenancy is the most common type of joint account for most couples. Unless you instruct your bank otherwise, it will assume that a jointly held account is a joint tenancy. This can lead to problems when a relationship breaks up if one of the account holders takes all of the money out of the account.
Account holders do not have to be related, but often they are spouses or partners, or a parent and child.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has more information information about Joint Accounts, including a publication called "What every older Canadian should know about: Power of attorney (for financial matters and property) and joint bank accounts"
Is my partner entitled to share my pension?
Pension benefits may be regulated provincially or federally. Your pension plan will be governed by federal laws if you work or worked in a federally regulated industry such as banks, interprovincial communications, and interprovincial transportation. Employees of the provincial government, teachers, and federal public-sector employees are covered by separate acts relevant to their pension plans.
When you die, any benefits payable from a pension plan, locked-in retirement account, or life income fund will be automatically payable to your spouse or common-law partner. If your marriage or common law relationship ends, your pension funds may be divided with your partner. This applies if your marriage or common-law relationship ends while you
- are a member of a pension plan
- have a locked-in retirement account or life income fund or
- are receiving a pension from a pension plan
The Nova Scotia Pension Benefits Act defines spouses as:
- Legally married people
- Individuals who have cohabited for one year so long as both are not married to someone else, or three years if either of them is married to someone else
- Registered domestic partners
You can read more about pension benefits at https://www.novascotia.ca/finance/en/home/pensions/default.aspx.
Is my partner entitled to my pension when I die?
Your partner is entitled to your pension death benefit if they qualify as a spouse under the provincial or federal law that regulates your pension. If you do not have a spouse when you die, the death benefit will be paid to the person listed with your pension regulator as your beneficiary.
Will I be responsible for my partner's debts?
Whether you are married or in a common law relationship, you are only responsible for another person’s debts if:
- Your name is on a contract, like car or apartment leases
- You co-signed a loan for your partner
- You signed a contract agreeing to pay the loan if they could not.
However, if your spouse applies to the court for a division of debts after you separate, the court may order you to contribute if you can.
When a person dies, their debts must be paid from any assets they owned at the time of death. This can include that person’s share of a jointly owned asset. If they did not own enough property to pay off the debt, it must be written off by the lender.
Will I need to change my will if I get divorced or married?
You should look at your will regularly to make sure it is still what you want and that it still applies to your situation.
If you get divorced, your will as a whole is still valid, although any gifts to your ex-spouse will not be valid. In this instance, the gift will pass to any alternate beneficiary you have named. You may wish to update your will to reflect this change. You may also wish to make different arrangements for your beneficiaries if some of the property you intended to leave them has been divided with your ex-spouse.
If you get married, any will made before marriage will be invalid and you will need to make a new will.
You should not try to change your will by marking in or crossing out words. This may cause significant problems. It is much safer to make a new will. For more information, see the section on Wills.