Love & living together

Did you know that living with someone for more than 12 months means you’re as good as married in the eyes of the law?


Rachel Barber, ArtSci ’09, wasn’t looking for a relationship when she asked Alex West to move in
last May.

“I was just asking him as a friend, I really needed a roommate,” she said.

West, a second year management student at St. Lawrence College, said he couldn’t move in with
Barber because he was romantically interested in her.

“We hung out pretty much every day, and I used to stay at her house until 6 a.m. talking,” he said. “When she asked me to move in, I said I couldn’t because I had feelings for her and didn’t want it
to be weird.” Things really got interesting when the two moved in together anyway, and started dating at the same time. “It was a total whim,” said Barber.

“I was worried at first, but it worked, and we’ve been living together for nine months now.” Though their situation may be unique, Barber and West are one of many student couples who choose to live together while going to school. The two say their choice comes with its share of advantages.

“Living together gives me more time to get work done, because I don’t have to go out of my way or
go somewhere to spend time with him,” Barber said. West agreed.

“I certainly get a lot more done, especially because she’s around to tell me to do my homework,”
he said. For Amanda Wilson, ArtSci ’07 and Alex Bourne, ArtSci ’08, the decision to live together after dating for two years was natural. “It just seemed silly not to: our lifestyles and what kind of people we wanted to live with were just really compatible, so it just made sense to live together,” said Wilson.
The two have been living with a third roommate, Queen’s alumnus Sayyida Jaffer, for two years. Wilson said she doesn’t find it awkward living with her partner and another friend.

“We’re all good friends independent of any romantic relationship that exists between Alex and me,” she said. “I don’t really think that the fact that Alex and I are in a relationship together factors into the house dynamics very much.” Wilson added that while the three bicker about dishes and taking
out the trash, serious fights haven’t been a problem. Despite the apparent perks of a live-in partner, Queen’s law professor Kathleen Lahey said student co-habitation has implications for both people involved.

“If you are in an official co-habitation with somebody, you will be treated as if you are married for purposes of taxes, OSAP, bursaries; anything and everything,” she said.

According to Lahey, two partners are considered co-habitants in Ontario if they’ve lived together
for 12 months. Lahey added that partners who don’t want to be considered co-habitants need to keep their finances separate. “The key is to make sure to keep separate bank accounts, never file documents treating each other as a spouse and split expenses so that they each pay their own way and one is not supporting another,” she said. “You don’t need to assume that just because you live together, you’ll be treated as a spouse.” Barber and West said they split expenses down the middle.

“We definitely split utilities, bills and groceries in half, and keep all the receipts,” West said. “Of course, things like dinners out or taxi rides are different, but for the big stuff we keep it even.
“Neither one of us is supporting the other.” Lahey said that although couples can sign agreements to control the division of property in case of a breakup, students often have too few assets to make this worthwhile.

“Usually when there aren’t a lot of assets, there isn’t much point,” she said. “But when a major purchase, like a car or house, occurs, or if one partner is paying tuition for another, then it might be time to sit down with a lawyer and draw up an agreement.” Barber said for now, she’s content to leave
things with West as they stand.

“Right now, I don’t think I would sign an agreement like that, and I do think I would feel uncomfortable talking to Alex about it,” she said. “We’re happy with our arrangement.” Wilson agreed.
“We haven’t considered it,” she said. “If that were to happen, I think we would deal with [dividing property] in the same way two friends who, for some reason were no longer friends, would deal with it.” Although both couples said being in close quarters could be challenging, they said they were satisfied with their decision to cohabit.

Barber said between school, work and friends, she and West welcome a night of free time together.
“It doesn’t happen too often that one of us needs space,” she said. “We’re busy with work and school and homework, and we’re both out all day.
“We need to make an effort to see each other, so we get up early and do yoga, have breakfast ogether, and try to have dinner together as well,” she said.

Still, both acknowledge that cohabitation can be tough.

“When you start spending all your time with someone, you start to notice things they do that you wouldn’t notice otherwise,” West said. “You start nitpicking.” Between Barber’s tendency to “sing and
dance all the time” and West’s constant guitar-playing, the two have their share of disagreements and pet peeves. West said commitment was the key to making it work despite the fights.

“Living together won’t work for a couple who have one fight and assume it’s the end of the universe,” he said. “You need to be committed, and we definitely are.” Wilson agreed that living together changed
the dynamics of a relationship. “I think in the end it makes for a healthier environment, since living in the same apartment, you’re forced to deal with any issues that do arise,” she said. “It’s harder
to ignore them if you have to walk into the same kitchen and use the same toaster to get your breakfast.”

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