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12 Little-Known Facts about Common Law Relationships

Clients seeking out divorce lawyers often ask about when a relationship is considered common law. Check out 12 facts about common law relationships you should know.

  1. A relationship is considered “common law” when you begin living together in a relationship that is like a marriage. Then it is common law immediately.
  2. If you are in a common law relationship and separate, you don’t necessarily have any obligation to your former partner. It depends on your circumstances.
  3. Property accumulated during marriage is automatically equalized but in a common law relationship, you only have a claim to the other person’s property if you assisted in the acquisition, preservation or maintenance of the asset or if you and your partner formed a “joint family venture”. For example, if you helped purchase an asset or improve it, you may have a claim to a portion of your partner’s asset. If your finances were intertwined, you had children together and you were working toward mutual goals, you may have a strong claim.
  4. Common law claims are complicated and it is difficult to predict the results at Family Court. You are better to negotiate an agreement using the Collaborative Process.
  5. In a best-case scenario, you may be able to claim 50 per cent interest in your partner’s property, but it could be that you only have a minor interest or none at all.
  6. If you provided housekeeping or child care services for your partner, it is possible that you deserve an interest in your partner’s assets as you’ve freed up time for him/her to acquire the assets.
  7. The interest you may acquire in your partner’s assets is based on you having a “constructive trust interest” in his or her assets.
  8. A constructive trust claim is not automatic. It is “judge-made” law so a judge has to determine the amount of your interest unless you and your spouse agree to it.
  9. You don’t qualify for spousal support if you lived in a common law relationship for less than 3 years unless you had a child together.
  10. Child support, custody and access are treated the same regardless of whether you were married or in a common law relationship.
  11. To prove you should be given an interest in your partner’s assets, you need to substantiate your contribution, whether it’s money contributed, services rendered, or interwined finances and mutual goals.
  12. If you are entering a common law relationship, it is a good idea to have a cohabitation agreement in place so both of you know in advance how property will be divided should you separate in the future.

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