It pays to have difficult conversations Working with a lawyer when you are getting married or cohabitating

The business partnerships that are most likely to survive are the ones in which the partners have had the difficult conversations while they are still in the honeymoon stage of their partnership. If the rights and responsibilities of the partners are resolved while there is still a desire to work through the conflict, there are few if any problems.

For business partners, I create a partnership agreement so that they have a record of what they agreed to while they were still getting along. If the partnership does not work out, they already know the break-up plan so damage is minimized.

The same can be said for personal relationships. If a personal partnership breaks down, you and your partner will need to decide how to divide your assets, who will have custody and guardianship of any children, how much child support will be paid, and whether spousal support will be paid and how much.

If you and your partner cannot decide these issues amicably, two lawyers and a judge will help you decide them through litigation. Not only is litigation expensive, it is destructive to ongoing co-parenting relationships. And litigation increases the two primary sources of stress: lack of certainty and lack of control.

While a cohabitation or marriage agreement is not foolproof, it gives some certainty and control over the outcome that litigation cannot give. If a court finds the agreement to be unfair or finds that one of you was coerced at the time of signing, it can be set aside or altered, but it is a better starting point than having no agreement at all. A lawyer can help ensure that the agreement says what you mean and help you negotiate terms that will be considered reasonable by the court. A second lawyer can offer independent legal advice to your partner to ensure that neither party is being unfairly disadvantaged.

Consider negotiating any other conditions that will help your relationship succeed. If you have different risk tolerances for investments, perhaps keep separate finances. If you have different spending habits, maybe have a household account for common expenses and separate accounts for everything else. If you are blending two families and one or both of you have other dependents, consider what role each of you will play in meeting these needs or supporting your partner in meeting these needs. Then, commit to those decisions in writing.

You cannot expect to predict every hardship that might drive a wedge between you and your partner, but the more issues you have discussed in advance, the fewer deal-breakers there will be along the way. If you cannot have difficult conversations while you are still in love, when will you have them?

This article is the first in a number of public legal information pieces. The general information offered here is not intended to be legal advice. If you need a lawyer and cannot afford one, you may qualify for legal aid and be able to access a free half-hour consultation through the Edmonton Community Legal Centre.

Featured Image: It’s worth getting a lawyer to draft a marriage or cohabitation agreement. | Pixabay

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