by Harry E. Thorsteinson
In this article, Harry E. Thorsteinson explores the merits of marriage contracts in the modern day.
The “traditional” family unit is changing. Certainly, the “traditional” family that sparked the sitcoms in the 50s remains with us and still represents the majority of “families” in our communities. But, that model itself has changed dramatically over the years, as the roles of “provider” and “homemaker” have changed and continue to change. Another major development is the emergence of other family unit models. As marriages end, for whatever reason, we see a considerable increase in single parent families, remarriages and blended families (the “Brady Bunch” model). More and more people (same sex and opposite sex) are choosing to simply cohabit, often with children from earlier relationships.
In Ontario these relationships are affected by the Family Law Act and as such the termination of such relationships can have traumatic results. It is for this reason that we counsel our clients to seek legal advice prior to entering into any such relationship. It may be wise to sign a Marriage Contract (sometimes referred to as a Prenuptial or Co-Habitation Agreement) which would remove the operation of the Family Law Act from that relationship and allow the parties to establish their own “rules” related to such things as spousal support, equal sharing of matrimonial assets and estate planning. When a Brady Bunch type of relationship is created, usually later in life, our thoughts and responsibilities are different than they were when we married, for the first time, at a much younger age.
For example, Mr. and Mrs. Brady both had children from a previous relationship. This creates responsibilities that simply did not exist when their first marriages were entered into. That, in turn, has a profound effect on estate planning and the type of Wills and Powers of Attorney that would be appropriate. A marriage contract may be required to allow the parties complete freedom in their estate planning.
At such a later stage in life, one might have a totally different outlook upon the future entitlement to spousal support or obligations to pay spousal support in the event of a breakdown of the relationship. Similarly, dividing family assets may take on a whole new light when marrying later in life. Again, a marriage contract would address these issues.
The Family Law Act does not distinguish between the young “newly weds” and the older Brady Bunchers and yet, the circumstances of one are totally different than the other. If a marriage or marriage-like relationship comes along later in life you would be wise to seek legal advice long before you enter into such a relationship and determine whether or not a marriage contract is appropriate for you. We say “long before” since such discussions are not very romantic and for that reason should not be entered into on the eve of a wedding.
The Brady Bunch was a happy bunch and to ensure such happiness check out your legal position before you enter into a relationship that involves living together with another person.