Common-law relationships are on the rise in Canada. This isn’t exactly breaking news. In fact, the number of common-law couples rose 13.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, more than four times the 3.1 per cent increase for married couples, reports Statistics Canada.
That makes sense considering attitudes about marriage have evolved over the past couple of decades. A 2018 survey conducted by Angus Reid found that over half of the Canadians who participated felt that it is not necessary for couples to tie the knot if they want to spend the rest of their lives together, and one in six of the participants said they’re not interested in marriage at all.
Common-law relationships may sound more appealing because couples don’t have to spend money on a wedding, and there are no legal requirements to enter and/or end the relationship. But, some couples have found out the hard way that ending a common-law relationship can be far more complicated than getting a divorce.
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Yes, attitudes about common-law relationships have changed, but the laws that govern them have not, and that’s becoming increasingly problematic.
There are clear rules and procedures for married couples in Ontario who want to get a divorce. Rules for common-law couples are not so clear. Different provinces have different rules for common-law couples, and in Ontario, the Family Law Act does not even explicitly recognize common-law relationships when it comes to property division. It does however, afford them rights to support.
Couples who have either lived together for at least three years, or who have a child together and are in a relationship of some permanence have a right to child support and spousal support, similar to married couples. But unlike married couples, they do not have a straightforward way to divide property.
Furthermore, a common-law partner has no intrinsic right to inherit property if the other party dies and did not include them in their estate plan or will. That includes the home that both parties lived in.
Now, if a couple kept all accounts separate, never made joint purchases, both rented a place together, and contributed to every aspect of the household, and the relationship equally, the issues may not be that complicated. But that’s just not how life works, especially when it comes to property division.
Just like married couples, many common-law couples build their lives together, they support each other (financially and emotionally), they invest in each other. And yet, when it comes to dividing property, things can be so much more complicated for unmarried couples.
Perhaps it’s time for legation to step in and establish some structured rules for common-law couples if their relationships are not all that different from those of married couples.