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Separation and the Matrimonial Home

Separation and the Matrimonial Home

On separation, parties often have to make hard decisions regarding how they will split assets, who will pay support, and how they will move on from the relationship.  At this time, one of the most contentious and difficult items to deal with is the Matrimonial Home.  Who gets to keep it? Will the kids remain there? Do we have to sell it? How much equity do we each get?

The matrimonial home is such a significant asset of the marriage that there is a whole section of the Family Law Act (FLA) devoted just to it (see part 2 of the Family Law Act) 

Keep in mind that these provisions only apply to Married spouses (see CL vs. Married spouse post).  Common law couples only have property rights as far as their title interest goes.  If you are common law, and you are not on title to the property, you will have to consider other equitable remedies such as a constructive trust or resulting trust claim through litigation if you want a part of the home.

First, it’s a good idea to understand what the matrimonial home is.  S.18(1) of the FLA defines a matrimonial home as:

Every property in which a person has an interest and that is or, if the spouses have separated, was at the time of separation ordinarily occupied by the person and his or her spouse as their family residence is their matrimonial home.

What’s interesting here is that more than one home can qualify as a matrimonial home.  This means that if you own a cottage that the family uses regularly at the time of separation, this could be considered a matrimonial home as well.

So what if you moved into a home different from the one you lived in when you got married? Remember that this rule applies to properties that at the time of separation were ordinarily occupied by the person and their spouse.  Any other property you owned during the marriage that you no longer live in ordinarily is treated differently.

What if you have property outside of Ontario? Do we apply the same “matrimonial rules”? Unfortunately no.  This rule only applies to homes in Ontario as s. 28(1) of the FLA indicates.

 

What rights do I have to the Matrimonial Home?

Under the FLA s. 19(1) – both spouses have an equal right to possession of the matrimonial home, regardless of who is on title to the home (the owner).  This is a right not against the home itself, but against the other spouse.  This doesn’t mean that you have a right to take title to the home, but that you can enforce a right to live in the home through courts via an order for exclusive possession.

This remedy is provided under s. 24(1) of the FLA This is an extreme measure.  This is an order from the court saying one spouse has to leave their own home; a place where people build their lives and find security, which is a significant reason why the matrimonial home has its own section under the FLA.

  1. 24(3) of the FLA provides criteria the courts will consider when granting an order for exclusive possession:
  2. the best interest of the children affected;
  3. Any existing orders under Part 1 (family property) and any existing support orders;
  4. The financial position of both spouses;
  5. Any written agreement between the parties;
  6. The availability of other suitable and affordable accommodation; and
  7. Any violence committed by a spouse against the other spouse or the children.

You also have a say in how the matrimonial home is to be disposed of or encumbered under s. 21(1) of the FLA.  Even if you are not on title, your ex spouse cannot sell the home, transfer it, or refinance it without your consent.

You are also entitled to the value of the home and how that is distributed.  See our post on equalization to understand how the home and other assets are distributed on separation.