Few people, even when they are entering a second (or third, or fourth) relationship consider that this one, like the previous one(s), might end. Love is in the air, and it is hard for most people to imagine that it would ever leave or that one person might treat the other badly.

This seems to be the case for women who have left an abusive relationship and are now embarking on a new partnership for which they have high hopes.

Romance and love are wonderful, but it is important for women to be pragmatic. This includes taking some steps to protect their privacy as well as their financial and property interests in the early days of a new relationship. This is true even if there is not a lot of money or property.

Domestic contracts

Some women enter a new relationship with property from their previous one. For instance, a woman may have received the matrimonial home or savings/investments as her share of the net family property at the end of her previous marriage. This is now her property, but if she marries again, it could become property she has to share with her new spouse if that relationship ends. Or, if she is entering a common-law relationship, there may be a verbal understanding that property will be shared equally if the relationship ends.

In either of these situations, or even if there is no property from a previous relationship, it is important for the woman and her new partner to enter into a domestic contract. This way they can opt out of the rules set under family laws for how people are to manage financial and property issues.

For example, a marriage contract could stipulate that the matrimonial home in which the couple live is the sole property of the woman and that the couple does not intend that it be equalized between them if their marriage ends. Or, a cohabitation agreement could set out the parties’ intention to share equally the value of property acquired by either of them during the relationship.

For more detailed information on this topic, see our previous FAQ on domestic contracts.

A briefer explanation of domestic contracts is also available on the Luke’s Place Family Court and Beyond website.

Being informed

Too many women are unaware of their financial rights and responsibilities. A woman could have a consultation with a family law lawyer as she begins a new committed relationship to make sure she knows the basics about her obligations as well as her rights. Women should also discuss their new relationship (when it gets to the point of marriage or cohabitation) with their financial/investment advisor if they have one as well as their workplace pension provider.

It is important for a woman to ask her partner questions about money when her new relationship is getting serious – and to ask for the back-up to support the answers. Especially if the new partner’s lifestyle seems out of whack with their apparent income, it’s a good idea to ask to see pay stubs, credit card statements, etc. Taking a look at the deed or lease to the house/condo/apartment the new partner lives in is also smart.

Regular conversations about household budgeting, finances and property can keep a woman informed about the family’s financial situation and can help her identify any concerns or red flags.

Documenting

Because most financial institutions only keep client information for seven years, it’s a good idea for a woman to take screenshots of all of her bank/investment/asset balances and credit card/debt balances as of the date of her second marriage or around the time she begins to live with a new partner. She should print the screenshots and mail them to herself, then keep them, along with electronic copies, in a safe and private place (where she will remember to look for them if and when her relationship comes to an end). This will help prove what she owned and owed on the date of marriage, should there be any dispute about that during a separation process.

Privacy

It’s important for a woman to keep her own bank account, even if she and her partner also have a joint account for household expenses. Setting the expectation from the beginning that she has and expects to maintain some financial independence and privacy is a good idea. It’s a red flag if her potential partner opposes this idea. The same is true for a separate credit card, whether or not she uses it very often. Both people should have debit cards to any shared accounts and should not have debit cards to sole accounts in the other person’s name.

All of these steps will put a woman in a stronger position if, upon the end of this second relationship, there are financial disputes between her and her partner but they will also help create a healthy client for an environment of mutual trust and respect during the relationship.