Cohabitating couples in British Columbia should start thinking about splitting debt and property and potentially paying out spousal support as the province rolls out new family laws.

The updated legislation, which takes effect Monday, erases the line between marriage and common law partnerships in B.C.

Couples who have lived together for more than two years will now have to evenly split family debt and anything purchased during their relationship, including property, in the event of a break-up.

Those who have a child together and have lived in a marriage-like relationship for less than two years are not included in the property division rules, but they may be entitled to receive spousal support.

The province’s family laws hadn’t been updated since 1978, and lawmakers said it didn’t reflect the reality experienced by couples in the 21st century. The changes were made to keep more families and couples out of court.

Under the 35-year-old Family Relations Act, common law spouses had to battle in court to prove they contributed to their partner’s wealth in order to claim spousal support or a share of common property after separating.

For couples not yet ready for their relationship to be redefined, at least in the eyes of the law, there is an out.

Common-law partners can choose to opt-out of spousal support and property splitting with a cohabitation agreement.

Lawyer Jamie Sarophim told CTV British Columbia the new legislation may catch many couples off-guard.

“I think the idea that someone living together for two years or more might have to give up a significant chunk of their property is going to be a surprise to people,” she said.

Sarophim suggested that couples do their research, or potentially speak to a lawyer, to understand their rights.

Other family law changes include new child custody guidelines and provisions around family violence.

A number of Canadian provinces offer couples living together for prolonged periods the same rights as married couples.

In Ontario, a couple is considered to be in a common law relationship after living together for three years or couples who have a child together. The law is similar in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

In Newfoundland a couple is considered common law after two-years of living together.

In Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in January that the province does not have to give common-law spouses the same rights as married couples.

Under provincial laws, partners do not owe each other anything when a common-law union ends.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Penny Daflos