This article is directed exclusively towards those who are contemplating marriage in the relatively near future.
You will soon be embarking on the greatest adventure of your life. Marriage. A person does not normally think of legal issues when (s)he is planning to tie the knot. But there are legal issues which merit your consideration. This article briefly discusses some of those issues in the Ontario context.
Change of Name
In Ontario, you are permitted (but not legally required) to adopt the other spouse's name or a hyphenated combination of names, upon marriage. A formal application to the Registrar General under the Vital Statistics Act may be used. No court application is necessary.
Marriage contracts in Ontario are called "pre nuptial agreements" in some other jurisdictions. Such contracts may be essential for some people. Property division laws do not only apply upon separation. They can also apply on death and in some other circumstances. Ontario's approach is to divide the wealth accumulated during the marriage, subject to some important exclusions. Contrary to popular belief, the non-title holding spouse obtains no automatic interest in one half of the other spouse's property. There can be vastly differing results where a spouse buys a matrimonial home worth $250,000.00 the day before the wedding versus the spouse who brings $250,000.00 cash into marriage. Property laws in Ontario have undergone massive changes in 1978 and then again in 1986. When never knows for sure what the future may bring in terms of legislative changes.
For some newlyweds, the existing law may be just fine; for others, the law may present problems for the couple themselves, their extended families, and even for their business partners. There can be a need for a properly drafted marriage contract even if the couple spend their entire lives together. The issues are far too complex to deal with here. It is prudent to consult a lawyer who is experienced in family law well before the wedding day in order to determine whether you need a marriage contract.
Purchasing a New Home
Perhaps the most significant investment made by a new couple is the purchase of a new home. While most real estate purchases proceed with no serious difficulty, the consumer should be aware that the competent real estate lawyer will conduct many different kinds of investigations and searches in order to make sure that you get what you bargained for! In fact, even before the deal is signed, the lawyer can review your purchase agreement to make sure the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted correctly. The lawyer can give you information about the Ontario Home Ownership Savings Plan, the New Home Warranty Program (if it is a new home you are purchasing), G.S.T., Land Transfer Tax, and a myriad of other matters essential to your purchase and financing arrangements. In conjunction with advice on whether or not a marriage contract would be appropriate, you can obtain the lawyer's advice on how best to legally register the property.
Wills and Power of Lawyer
The making of a will is as important a part of planning for the future as the arrangement of adequate life and disability insurance coverage. A properly drafted and signed will serves to protect and assist one's family. A will which takes due notice of the family law implications, any marriage contract and any legal obligations existing to a previous spouse or family, can save a couple great expense and aggravation later. A will has many advantages. People naturally tend to ignore this matter, especially with the excitement and more pressing issues surrounding the wedding plans. Just the same, employing sensible planning now as one embarks on a major life change, is only prudent.
Any will that you have previously signed (unless it is expressed to be in contemplation of the marriage) is automatically revoked by your marriage.
Major changes in the laws governing decision making for those who are unable, for one reason or another, to tend to their own affairs, are now being implemented in Ontario. A person may not want the general law to apply to him or her. Simple, inexpensive steps can be taken to override the law. A properly drafted Power of Lawyer can help here.
You may be assuming new financial responsibilities - a new home, a new family. People (including yourself) may rely on your income earning potential. To cover those unexpected losses that sometimes face us, it is prudent to insure not only against property loss but also against illness, disability, etc. Your existing life insurance policies and RRSP's should also be reviewed. A spouse can be designated as a beneficiary of both and thus certain tax and estate planning goals can be achieved. As part of an estate plan, a lawyer can assist you and your insurance broker with the necessary planning in this area.
Lawyers do not deal solely with conflict. The advice and guidance of knowledgeable lawyers can assist a couple to achieve life's goals.