The Definition and Misconceptions Relating to Common law Relationships
The definition of a common law couple is simply that two people are living together, in a marriage-like relationship. In most cases, it’s pretty easy to identify a common law relationship but there are more difficult situations. For example, it’s possible for a woman to be considered a common law wife even if she has two homes. There was a case where a couple had a child together but they each had a home. They would stay together about 4 or 5 nights per week, so it looked perhaps as if they were in a dating relationship. But the court said that they had presented themselves as a couple to the world: they socialized together, they did household chores for each other, and they combined their finances. They appeared like a married couple, so the judge considered them to be common law even though they each had a home.
If there is some ambiguity in the relationship, the courts look at all of the circumstances of the relationship to determine whether it’s marriage-like and therefore a common law relationship.
You are considered a common law couple at the moment you start living together, but you really don’t have any legal rights until you have lived together for at least three years. Prior to the three years, if you separate, you cannot seek any spousal support, unless you have a child together.
The three year rule does not apply to the division of property. When it comes to property, if you have contributed to the acquisition of the property directly through payment of monies or indirectly through services related to the asset acquisition or maintenance, you may have a claim.
The most common misconception is that eventually common law couples become married automatically or they will be treated the same way as if they are married when they separate. This is just not true. Living together as a common law couple is not the same as being married. You actually have to go through a marriage ceremony, whether it’s a religious or civil ceremony, and you can’t become married without such a ceremony. As a result, a lot of common law couples separate and then think that they have the same rights and obligations as if they had been married, and that is just not so.