In deciding whether to consult a lawyer to enter into a written contract before, during, or after a relationship, there are a number of things you should consider.
Think About Your Future
Whether you are in a relationship, engaged to get married, or ending a relationship, perhaps the most important question you should ask yourself is: "how can I best protect myself and my finances going forward?"
If you are in a common law relationship or engaged to get married, and you are wondering how to protect an asset that you are bringing into your relationship, you should consider what your intention would be with this asset in the event of a breakdown in your relationship. One common example is someone putting a down payment on a home he/she intends to purchase with their partner. If you envision having your down payment returned to you in the event of a breakdown in your relationship, then signing a contract to confirm this intention would be in your best interest, given the family property laws in Manitoba.
If you are ending your relationship with your partner/spouse and wondering what your financial future is going to look like, you should be thinking about how your assets and/or liabilities will be divided. For example, if you are entitled to receive a property settlement from your separation, a written contract can stipulate all of the terms of your settlement and it will serve to clearly lay out who gets what and who pays who.
In addition, you ought to determine how best to protect yourself from ongoing obligations you might have from the relationship, as well as any rights you may have arising from it. Entering into a Separation Agreement with your ex-partner is one way of obtaining certainty in these areas and is often recommended.
Make it Worth Your While
If you are not sure whether entering into an agreement is worth your time, energy, and money, consider the value of what you are trying to accomplish and/or what you are trying to protect. If your goals in this regard are of substantial value, then at the very minimum consulting a lawyer to discover your options would be worthwhile.
If you and your partner do not have significant assets coming into the relationship, you may determine that an agreement is not worth it at that time. Circumstances, of course, can change, in which case it might be worth consulting with a lawyer before a major change occurs.
Do it Right the First Time
The adage of "do it right the first time" definitely applies to contracts in the family context. If you are going to commit the time, energy and money to creating a contract, you should ensure that your due diligence is done. Among other things, obtaining appropriate financial disclosure is a crucial component of any contract as this will not only allow you to be properly advised by your lawyer, but it will also strengthen the validity of your agreement.
Involve the Professionals
Regardless of the type of contract you are considering (e.g. Cohabitation Agreement, Pre-Nuptial Agreement, Post-Nuptial Agreement, or Separation Agreement) it is important to seek advice from the professionals. This, of course, includes obtaining the advice of a trained family lawyer. In addition, but depending on your financial circumstances, involving a financial planner/advisor or even an accountant can be extremely beneficial to your agreement.