Common Law Relationships 101

lawyers for common law relationships legal issues in Canada

Question: I have been living with my boyfriend for 18 months and we have no plans to get married.  At what point are we considered “common law” and what does that mean?

What constitutes “common law” as most people use the term is highly dependent on circumstances.  In terms of the ownership of assets, a common law spouse has no right to the assets of the other party – the starting point at law is that each party keeps assets in their own name, and jointly titled assets are divided evenly.

However, a party who is not the registered owner of an asset may claim an interest in the property through the legal concept of unjust enrichment or a constructive trust.  In these cases, a party must demonstrate that although they are not a registered owner to the asset, they have contributed to the acquisition, maintenance or appreciation of the asset, entitling them to a share in the value.  These cases are somewhat complex and depend heavily on the unique facts of each situation.

In terms of spousal support, a common law partner only has the potential entitlement to spousal support after three years of continuous cohabitation, or if there is a relationship of permanence and you have a child together.  The amount of spousal support payable, if any, will depend on several factors, such as the income, assets, health and financial independence of each party.  Again, the specific facts of each case are important.

It is important to understand your rights and liabilities, and to conduct yourself in a manner which will not create undue hardship or confusion upon the end of the relationship. Seeking out the advice of an experienced lawyer in family law can assist you in gaining such an understanding.