There’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding common law relationships. Some people believe it’s the same being in a marriage, while others think it’s a great way to commit to someone while keeping your assets separate. The fact is, the law around common law relationships is not black and white.
Simply put, a common law couple lives together in a marriage-like relationship. In most cases, it’s pretty easy to identify a common law relationship, but some situations are more difficult.
For example, it’s possible to be considered common law even if you have two homes. There was a case where a couple had a child together but they each had a home. They stayed together 4 to 5 nights per week, so it appeared as if they were in a dating relationship. To the court, 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 ambiguity, 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 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 by working together in a joint family venture, you may have a claim. Your claim may be to a sum of money or an interest in your partner’s assets. Your interest is not automatically 50% of your partner’s property. It all depends on the facts of your case. Our lawyers can suggest the likely range of outcomes.
The most common misconception is that eventually common law couples become married automatically or they will be treated 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. Know the facts. Know your rights. Divorce lawyers can help.