Common law vs. marriage

Common law vs. marriage

The term common law marriage is familiar enough to many, yet what’s probably less understood is what the term actually means, how it specifically differs from more traditional marital arrangements, and what the implications are of common-law arrangements versus marriage.

Indeed, the study of common-law relationships can actually get quite complicated. For example, not all English-speaking jurisdictions recognize such arrangements. While Canada recognizes common-law unions, Australia has what’s called de facto relationships or domestic relationships and/or partnerships, and only a handful of American States recognize common-law status.

In Canada, not a marriage

In addition, at least in Canada, the term common law marriage doesn’t actually apply, because the law doesn’t actually recognized it as a marriage. So, the term common-law unions, or other various labels, are often applied to non-traditional relationships.

What can complicate matters even further are the different definitions and terms that apply to common-law arrangements across Canada, since provincial jurisdiction applies. So, for example, in Nova Scotia, unmarried couples have rights by becoming a domestic partnership (same term some Australian jurisdictions use), while Quebec is the only Canadian province that doesn’t recognize common-law arrangements.

In general, a Canadian common-law union refers to any non-marital conjugal relationship in which the couple has been living together for a specified period of time. The Canada Revenue Agency stipulates a living arrangement of at least 12 consecutive months in order for a relationship to be recognized as common law.

Differences and similarities

In Ontario, a duration of three years is required for a common-law relationship to be recognized. The same applies to Nova Scotia. While, in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta, a two-year stipulation applies. Yet, in all those jurisdictions, different definitions and regulations apply to what gets recognized as common law.

Also in general, common-law unions across Canada tend to have these three distinct characteristics: 1) Assets are not divided equally upon breakup, as they would be upon marital divorce; 2) Nevertheless, spousal support can still apply to common-law unions upon breakup; 3) Children affect common-law relationships, which are more quickly recognized as such if a cohabitating couple has kids together.

If you need a professional advice on family law, or if you’re thinking of divorce, please phone us here at Hosseini Law Firm (HLF) for a 15 minute free consultation: 416-628-4635, or please use the contact form provided on this page. Thank you.

Posted on by Behdad Hosseini
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