Family law agreements are legally enforceable documents that set out the terms and conditions for important family relationship matters, such as marriage, cohabitation, separation, and so on.
As well as prenuptial agreements, this includes postnuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements, and separation agreements.
Generally, families in Alberta seek the assistance of a qualified family lawyer to help draft these documents. Family lawyers make sure that your rights are protected, nothing important is omitted and the document abides by all state and federal family laws.
Once completed, the family law agreement can be filed with the court and used to assist in judgements if necessary.
What are the main types of family law agreements in Alberta?
Most family law agreements in Alberta refer to marital law (marriage contracts), cohabitation, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, separation, and settlement agreements during a divorce.
These generally address important financial and other family issues, such as property/assets/debt, parenting, child support, and spousal support.
Such agreements are usually designed to set out the terms by which a couple arranges such matters in the event of a relationship breakdown, keeping them in control of important decisions rather than handing that power to a third party.
Here is a brief overview of the main types of family law agreements in Alberta…
A prenuptial agreement is for couples who plan to marry and may set out the terms and conditions by which they will live and what happens if they should separate.
The agreement is drafted before the marriage commences and, provided that both spouses-to-be sign the document without coercion and the terms follow state and federal laws, it will become a legally enforceable document when the marriage starts.
Unless the agreement specifies that it is “prenuptial” (i.e., intended to come into effect after the marriage begins), it will end when the couple marries.
Postnuptial agreements are almost identical to prenuptial agreements, except they are created and signed after the marriage has already begun—sometimes, many years afterward.
Why create a postnuptial agreement? Circumstances may change or couples who never saw the need for such an agreement before marriage may think differently after living together; or they may simply want to add clarity, certainty, and protection for matters such as asset division and debt responsibility if the marriage breaks down.
Not everyone in Alberta wants to get married. Many couples live happily together without ever tying the knot.
Adult interdependent partners have a similar legal status in Alberta to married couples but anyone who lives together in a cohabiting relationship can create a cohabitation agreement that sets out the roles, rights, and responsibilities of each person in the relationship.
Some couples feel that this provides more certainty and legal protections if the relationship should break down in the future.
Often, when couples separate, disputes arise and other people (judges) must make decisions about who owns what property or pays support, for instance. A cohabitation agreement keeps the couple in control of such important decisions and allows them to determine their own rules. It also reduces the costs, delays, and potential stress of a separation.
Cohabitation agreements can be created before or after a couple decides to live together and many of the terms used are similar to those used in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.
Once a relationship breaks down, a separation agreement sets out the terms and conditions by which each partner will go their separate ways.
The most important issues to address when a relationship fails are usually parenting, child custody, and child support, as well as asset and debt division and spousal support.
A separation agreement signed by both parties is required for a divorce to be granted by the Alberta courts, unless a judge is asked to decide on such matters instead. But such agreements can also set out the legal terms by which adult interdependent partners or cohabiting couples separate.
Family agreement services in Alberta
Jennings Family Law offers a range of family agreement services from lawyers experienced in helping Alberta families protect their legal rights and understand their obligations and options.
Family law consultation
During a consultation, a family lawyer will assess your specific situation, outline the risks and your legal options, and answer any questions you may have.
These consultations can be arranged on an ad hoc basis to help you decide what to do—with no further commitments to our firm.
Negotiation for family agreements
Family law agreements often require negotiation skills so that the terms included closely reflect your wishes.
If you’re in the process of drafting a family law agreement with your spouse or partner and need help with negotiating terms, one of our lawyers can help. This is especially important if your partner has hired legal assistance.
We will explain your rights and responsibilities, help decide on the most effective negotiation strategy, and look for mutually beneficial solutions rather than disputes.
Drafting family law agreements
Family law agreements should be professionally drafted to ensure that they are comprehensive, legally watertight, and enforceable. All necessary terms and conditions must be clear, properly documented, and in accordance with state and federal laws.
Reviewing family law agreements
Family law agreements can greatly impact the futures of the parties involved so mistakes or omissions can be costly.
If you have already drafted a family law agreement, such as a prenup, postnup, cohabitation agreement or separation agreement, our family lawyers can review it to ensure that it meets all legal requirements and represents your best interests before you sign it.
Independent legal advice
Under Alberta law, for many family law agreements to be legally binding, each party concerned must have taken independent legal advice (without the presence of the other party).
This step ensures that both parties who sign the contract are aware of what it contains and that there has been no coercion in preparing and signing the agreement. It also reduces the chances of surprises later on.
If you need to create a family law agreement to protect you and provide clarity for the future, the experienced family lawyers at Jennings Family Law can help you. Book a case evaluation to discuss your legal rights, responsibilities, and options.