Pace Law

Second Marriage Legal Checklist: Before You Say ‘I Do’ a Second Time

November 16, 2023

In this article we cover the significance of marriage contracts, especially for asset protection and managing financial clarity in second marriages. We also discuss the legal nuances of cohabitation agreements in Ontario, the distinct property rights of common-law partners, and the necessity of updating child-related agreements and estate plans in the context of a second marriage. Furthermore, it stresses the need for complete financial disclosure and careful handling of spousal support and shared assets in remarriages. We also touch on the legal status of stepparents towards stepchildren and underscore the benefits of seeking legal guidance and mediation for resolving potential disputes.


Table Of Contents

  1. The Significance of a Marriage Contract
  2. Cohabitation Before Marriage
  3. Navigating Common-Law Relationships
  4. Revisiting Child-Related Agreements
  5. Estate Planning for Second Marriages
  6. Financial Disclosures and Considerations
  7. Handling Spousal Support and Shared Assets
  8. Legal Rights and Responsibilities Towards Stepchildren
  9. Seeking Legal Guidance: Consultation and Mediation
  10. Conclusion



The Canadian family dynamic is evolving. As of 2019, a notable 26% of couples aged 35 to 64 were in their second or later union, reflecting a rise from 23% in 2006. This shift isn’t just about changing personal narratives or family setups; it’s a spotlight on the necessity of legal readiness. Entering a second marriage comes with a complex blend of emotional and financial ties from past relationships. It’s crucial to grasp one’s legal rights and responsibilities to be well-prepared for this fresh chapter. Thus, embracing the nuances of second marriages with a solid legal foundation is not only wise but vital.


The Significance of a Marriage Contract

In the current Canadian marital landscape, where divorce rates have decreased yet remain significant, with a 36% drop in Ontario by 2020, Marriage contracts have become increasingly crucial. These agreements, particularly in first marriages, lay a groundwork for clear asset management and protection. However, their importance escalates in the context of second or subsequent unions, a scenario faced by over a quarter of Canadians aged 35 to 64. In these situations, Marriage Contracts serve a vital role in protecting premarital assets, not necessarily true.  All child related issues should be dealt with at date of separation, and personal wealth. They can offer protection against being held liable for a new partner’s prior debts, thus ensuring financial clarity, and safeguarding one’s legacy for any existing children. This legal prudence, adapting to changing family dynamics, can assist in maintaining marital stability and dignified separation, if necessary.


Cohabitation Before Marriage

In Ontario, cohabitation sets a distinct legal stage: a couple becomes common-law after three years of residing together, or sooner if they have a child. Unlike married spouses who can rely on the equalization of net family property provisions of the Family Law Act upon separation, common-law spouses lack automatic property rights and must rely on title or trust principles to resolve property disputes. Enter the cohabitation agreement, a key Ontario legal tool that can define each spouse’s asset rights, crucial for preventing disputes should the relationship end. This document can outline property ownership and division but leaves decision making responsibility and parenting time to the courts, who will decide those issues based on the child’s best interests at the time of separation. In the absence of a will, common-law partners may not automatically inherit their spouse’s estate, highlighting the need for thorough estate planning. As legal lines increasingly blur, with cohabitation gaining recognition in the Family Law Act for spousal support, the crafting and enforcement of cohabitation agreements play an essential role in protecting individual rights outside marriage.


Navigating Common-Law Relationships

In Ontario, common-law relationships, defined by two individuals living together after three years, or sooner if they have a child.   follow unique guidelines for asset division upon separation. As of 2023, each partner keeps their own property acquired before or during the relationship, unless it’s jointly owned. This differs from married couples, where common-law partners don’t automatically share in each other’s net worth.

For property division, common-law partners can enter a domestic contract. For inheritance matters, they should ensure their designation as beneficiaries on pensions, insurance, or in wills. Property ownership, particularly for real estate, hinges on individual contributions and may require a legal claim for ownership rights.

These legal nuances in common-law relationships, which vary across provinces, underscore the need for informed legal guidance to effectively navigate these partnerships.


Decision Making Responsibility, Parenting Time and support arrangements often need updating when life changes, like remarriage, moving, or career shifts, occur. In Ontario, second marriages bring added complexity, balancing the needs of a new spouse with the inheritance rights of biological children. This is especially important as a new marriage can annul a previous will, necessitating a revised estate plan that accounts for both the new spouse and existing children.

As children grow and their needs evolve, Decision Making Responsibility and Parenting Time agreements may require adjustments. These updates are essential to uphold the children’s best interests, balancing emotional and financial security within the intricate dynamics of blended families. Each change must be thoughtfully crafted to fit the legal framework, ensuring fair and supportive arrangements for all involved.


Estate Planning for Second Marriages

Navigating estate planning in the context of a second marriage is key to honoring the deceased’s wishes and properly distributing assets. While new spouses aren’t obligated for child support from prior relationships, it’s essential to update wills and trusts to mirror the nuances of a blended family.

In revising estate plans, it’s important to anticipate potential disputes between children from a first marriage and the new spouse, especially over asset division. If not meticulously planned, default laws might lead to unintended outcomes, like assets meant for previous children going to the new spouse.

A well-thought-out plan should account for asset growth during the marriage and acknowledge each spouse’s contribution to family wealth, ensuring equitable division. This foresight also reduces the risk of family law claims affecting estate distribution. Therefore, consulting legal experts is crucial in these complex scenarios to safeguard the interests of all involved in the new estate plan.


Financial Disclosures and Considerations

In family law, when ending or commencing a common law relationship or marriage, complete financial transparency is paramount. Both parties must fully disclose their financial obligations, debts, and assets, a legal necessity that also builds trust and ensures fair outcomes. With remarriage, especially in Ontario post-January 1, 2022, hidden finances have serious ramifications. Previously, a new marriage nullified an existing will, sometimes unintentionally shifting assets to the new spouse. Now, wills persist through remarriage, and concealed assets can significantly change estate distribution, legally considering the previous spouse as deceased.

Insufficient disclosure risks legal repercussions, including damaged credibility or income imputation, which can impact spousal support and asset division. Thus, clear financial disclosure is crucial in safeguarding estate plans in second marriages and maintaining the integrity of financial settlements.


Handling Spousal Support and Shared Assets

Entering a second marriage involves carefully considering ongoing spousal support commitments to a former spouse, a task often requiring legal guidance. Blending assets from previous marriages into this new union demands meticulous legal and financial planning. For example, life insurance policies with beneficiaries from a past relationship need reassessment. Combining these with a new spouse’s assets can significantly affect estate plans and beneficiary designations.

Crafting an updated financial and legal strategy, ideally with the help of estate planning experts, is crucial. This ensures assets are managed respecting both spouses’ wishes and any previous obligations. Such thorough updates to estate plans and beneficiary designations, coupled with a clear understanding of the legal aspects of merging assets, are vital. They secure the financial interests of both parties, acknowledging the intricacies of past and current marital connections.


Legal Rights and Responsibilities Towards Stepchildren

In the legal realm, the status of stepparents towards stepchildren is distinct and doesn’t automatically confer the same rights as biological or adoptive parents. Stepparents aren’t inherently granted legal guardianship; it’s a status that must be pursued through the courts, often dependent on a biological parent’s absence, incapacity, or relinquished responsibilities. This guardianship varies, being either temporary or permanent, based on the court’s decision and the child’s situation.

Adoption, in contrast, permanently shifts all parental rights and responsibilities from the biological parents to the adoptive ones, ending the child’s legal connection to their birth family. Legal guardianship, however, keeps the child’s legal bond with their biological parents intact, while empowering stepparents to make welfare decisions until the child reaches adulthood or the biological parent can take back their role.

Therefore, while stepparents can be instrumental in a stepchild’s life, their legal rights and duties are quite different from those of biological or adoptive parents. These rights and responsibilities hinge on legal processes that acknowledge and formalize their role.


Consulting a legal expert early can greatly assist individuals and businesses in handling potential disputes and clarifying unclear matters. This proactive approach helps clients make well-informed choices, especially in regards to mediation. Mediation, which seeks a balance of interests and needs in disputes, can prevent conflicts from intensifying. It’s key in promoting effective communication and identifying solutions that benefit all parties, all while reducing the emotional and financial burdens often linked to litigation. Utilizing these dispute resolution tactics allows parties to steer the results, find closure, and cut costs, positively affecting both their personal and professional spheres.



Preparing for a second marriage involves navigating a complex legal landscape, influenced by past experiences and potential issues from previous relationships. Establishing a solid legal base is essential. Legal experts can proactively tackle matters related to assets, responsibilities, and the dynamics of a blended family.

The value of customized legal guidance here is immense. It protects rights, secures assets, and fosters a mutual understanding and clear agreements between parties. This isn’t just about protecting interests; it’s about creating a foundation of trust and transparency in the new relationship.

Embarking on this journey, informed preparation is key. Turning to legal professionals, like those at Pace Law, to address the specific challenges of second marriages is a wise step. This investment supports the long-term strength and well-being of your union, offering peace of mind and legal readiness for what lies ahead.

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Office Location

191 The West Mall, Suite 1100
Toronto, ON M9C 5K8
Phone: 1-877-236-3060
Fax: 416-236-1809