Domestic Contracts

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Whether you’re starting a new relationship, in a relationship, or separating, we can help you to draft Pre-nuptial Agreements, Cohabitation Agreements, and Post-nuptial Agreements (domestic contracts).

Domestic contracts can help protect you against a nasty separation or estate litigation by agreeing to property division and spousal support terms in advance. Domestic contracts can also protect property which you may not want or be financially able to divide upon a separation or death, such as businesses and farms. Some spouses agree to waive spousal support (alimony), to help ensure a cleaner break upon separation or death.


What are domestic contracts?
Domestic contracts, the most well-known being Pre-nuptial Agreements, are agreements setting out how property division, spousal support, partner support and/or support claims against a deceased’s estate will be treated if there is a death or separation.

There isn’t one way to draft a domestic contract. Many Pre-nuptial Agreements will simply have the effect that “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours, and neither of us will pay any spousal support if we separate or one of us passes away.” Some might say that a certain asset, such as a business, land, or farm, won’t be divided if there is a separation or death, so that the property can stay in the family without having to be sold or catastrophic loans taken out upon a separation or death. Many agreements contain exceptions for property that is purchased jointly or in joint names, so that if you intend to share some property, you still can. Some agreements will state that spousal support will be waived, unless you have children together. Some agreements will merely confirm what property each spouse has at the beginning of a relationship, so that there isn’t a dispute about how much of a credit they each receive later.

However the agreement is drafted, it has to meet very specific legal requirements before it will be valid, such as each partner or spouse obtaining independent legal advice, and signing very specific certificates. Hiring our experienced lawyers to draft your domestic contract will help to ensure that it will properly protect you.

Cohabitation Agreements
Cohabitation Agreements are domestic contracts which are signed by unmarried partners who don’t anticipate being married.

As of 2020, separating unmarried / common law partners will have nearly identical rights to property division as married spouses, meaning an equal division of property after adjustments and exemptions. Although you might receive a credit for property owned prior to the relationship, you can only receive a credit for what you can prove the property was worth at the start of the relationship. Increases in the value of such property over time are typically still shared, and transferring properties into joint names can erode your credit. That means that even if you already had an asset, investment, business, or a farm at the beginning of the relationship, you may still have to divide property, sell property, or take out a loan to be able to pay out a former partner. In some cases, this might mean a business or farm has to be sold or liquidated, even if it’s been in your family for generations. You can protect your property through a Cohabitation Agreement.

Pre-nuptial Agreements
Pre-nuptial Agreements are domestic contracts which are signed by unmarried partners, but in anticipation of a wedding. They’re the most common type of domestic contract. Sometimes they’re entered into to protect property owned prior to the marriage, or in anticipation of a significant inheritance or gift. Pre-nuptial Agreements are especially common between people who have been married before, who don’t want to risk going through another messy separation. Sometimes parents insist on pre-nuptial agreements being in place before transferring assets to their children, to ensure that the asset remains in their family unaffected by the conflict of a separation or death.
Post-nuptial Agreements
Sometimes married spouses will want to enter into a domestic contract. These are known as Post-nuptial Agreements (after the marriage). Sometimes this is in anticipation of a significant inheritance, gift, or new business venture, or it may just be planning in advance to decide what will happen upon a separation or death. It’s usually easier to make those decisions while both spouses get along and are both alive, which Post-nuptial Agreements can accomplish.
Separation Agreement

If the parties do not have a Cohabitation Agreement or Pre/Post-Nuptial Agreement and are going through the breakdown of relationship, BARR LLP’s top Family Law lawyers can help you to prepare the Separation Agreement (Minutes of Settlement). 

We are one of Edmonton’s largest Family Law teams. We have Divorce lawyers who have decades of experience handling homes, investments, pensions, rental properties, businesses, farms, tax issues, cabins, boat slips, and many other types of property. The teacher of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law’s Advanced Family Law class is one of our lawyers. Our firm takes a team approach and shares knowledge, so that our lawyers can benefit from each other’s experience. We have an array of Family Law lawyers at varying levels of experience and rates, to be able to serve a variety of clientele. We are also proud to be able to collaborate with our firm’s Corporate/Commercial, Real Estate, and Estate lawyers when addressing particularly complex agreements.

Death and Estates

Some of our Family Law lawyers practice Estate Law. In addition, BARR LLP employs multiple Wills and Estate Lawyers. This means that we can help you to address what will happen if you or your partner pass away. This can reduce the risk of a conflict over the deceased’s share of property upon a death, so that the mourning family can instead focus on healing.

Protecting Businesses

If you’re part of or starting a new business venture and your business partners are looking to limit claims against the business, the safest way is usually to have both domestic contracts and Unanimous Shareholder Agreements in place.
BARR LLP has Corporate lawyers, Estate lawyers, and multiple Family Law lawyers whose practices consist primarily of divorces and separations where there are businesses, farms, rental properties, or self-employment.

* Please note the foregoing is not an exhaustive list and additional items may arise depending on the nature of your transaction.