Demystifying Common-Law Relationships

I often hear common-law spouses referring to each other as “husband” and “wife”, but this is a very common misnomer. While common-law spouses may have committed relationships equal to those of married couples, it is important to be aware of significant differences between the rights and obligations of married spouses and common-law spouses in the eyes of Ontario law.

 
First, it is necessary to understand when a common-law relationship exists under the law. Many people believe that once a couple has been living together for over one year, they are common-law. This assumption is understandable because the standard for qualifying as a common-law spouse according to the Canada Revenue Agency and many employer benefit plans is one year. But, the threshold is very specific for family law purposes: You have lived in a conjugal relationship with your partner for three consecutive years; or for a period of some permanence with a child.

 
Once you have established that you are in a common-law relationship, the question becomes “what are your rights and obligations?” A concern common-law spouses often raise with me is whether they will have to give up half of their property in the event of a breakdown of their relationship.
Married spouses have a right to equal division of all assets accumulated during a marriage whether they are in the joint or sole names of one or the other spouse. Significantly, they also have a right to equal division of the home in which the couple resides, whether it was purchased before or after marriage, and regardless of whether it is in the name of only one of the spouses.

 
Common-law spouses, on the other hand, do not have a legislated right to a share in each other’s property. If property is in the sole name of one of the spouses, it remains that person’s property upon separation. This does not affect property in joint names, which is divided equally between two owners, regardless of the nature of their relationship.

 
A common-law spouse can acquire an interest in their partner’s property based on the impact of his or her contribution to its increase in value. So, for example, if you have paid for renovations or have performed maintenance on the home, you can make a claim for an interest in your spouse’s property. These claims are complex and can be difficult to prove without a lot of supporting evidence.

 
So, what rights do common-law spouses share with married spouses? As a common-law spouse, your right to spousal support is equal to that of a married spouse. This does not mean that spousal support is automatic, but like in a married relationship, the same principles of establishing your entitlement to and calculating the amount and duration of spousal support apply to common-law couples.

 
A child’s right to receive child support, which is payable to the parent with whom the child(ren) primarily reside(s), exists independently of the nature of the parents’ relationship. So, whether you are married, common-law or never lived together at all, children have equal rights to receive child support.

 
While these are only some of the differences between common-law and married relationships, the important thing to take from this discussion is that once you are aware that there are differences, you can properly plan for what will happen in the event of a breakdown of the relationship or if one spouse passes away. Proper planning includes a) preparing a cohabitation agreement with the assistance of a lawyer and, b) ensuring you and your common-law spouse have proper wills in place.

 

Ashley Waye, Founding Lawyer of Waye Law, a family law and child protection firm in Toronto.

 

Contributed by Ashley Waye

TwitterGoogle+FacebookLinkedInDiggStumbleUponBlogger PostDeliciousShare

Other News

Pumpkin-Parade-image-Oct-18-IMG_6194---potential-banner

PUMPKIN PARADE

Contributed by Carolyn Jarman. Show up, show off and shine on one more night. The 6th annual Cabbagetown Pumpkin Parade is held every November 1st from 5-9pm in Riverdale Park West.  This fun filled … [Read More...]

Alumnae theartre photo of cast Oct 18

FireWorks Festival

The Alumnae Theatre offers three fresh plays, innovatively staged for its FireWorks Festival, running from 7-25 November.   These three plays, The Pigeon by Chloë Whitehorn, Moving On by … [Read More...]

Self Esteem vs Self Compassion…

Contributed by Katie Mead. I work with a lot of young adults. And a common theme is emerging: self-esteem. Considered developmental nirvana, we all know we need it. But what exactly is … [Read More...]

ROAD SAFETY TIPS IN SCHOOL ZONES

Contributed by Tony Lafazanis – Personal Injury and Disability Insurance Lawyer. During the school year, it’s important to be extra cautious when driving in school zones. The following are some road … [Read More...]

Spruce--New-Roots-Dinner-Series-image

New Roots Dinner Series

Oh what a night! Contributed by Kim Alke – owner of Spruce Cabbagetown. The First Annual New Roots Dinner Series, created by Daniel et Daniel as a fundraiser for Green Thumbs Growing Kids, was held … [Read More...]

trick-or-treat-image---Jen-Shearer-article-Oct-18-IMG_7070-(002)

Teaching our kids about balance…

Contributed by Jennifer Shearer. Fall is such a wonderful time a year. Food begins to shift from light and leafy to warm and hearty. October shows up, kids get excited for Halloween and parents begin … [Read More...]

lucy-trois-sign

Why I am voting for Lucy Troisi

Contributed by Carmine, Cabbagetown South Resident. In 10 short months we’ve seen Lucy fight for our neighbourhood safety and well being more so than any other candidate, incumbent, or past … [Read More...]

Katie-Mead-

What is Gestalt Psychotherapy?

Contributed by Katie Mead. I fancy myself a pretty good writer. But when I sat down to write the copy for my website, I was flummoxed. Damn, it was hard! Where to start? Who am I? What do I stand for? … [Read More...]

Reap What You Sow with Green

Contributed by Kevin from Kendall & Co. Tuesday October 2nd, Cabbagetown’s creative businesses play host to a fundraiser benefitting Green Thumbs Growing Kids.   Green Thumbs Growing … [Read More...]

St James Town Steaks and chops