Clearing up the myths about common-law relationship status is becoming increasingly important, as more and more people are finding themselves in such an arrangement. For many years now, official statistics have been showing that the number of married couples is decreasing, while at the same time, the number of couples choosing to live together without being married, or “cohabit” is on the rise.
There’s actually no such thing as a “common-law marriage,” contrary to popular belief. There’s no legal status given to couples who live together in a marriage-like arrangement, but with nolegal documentation.
Laws concerning common-law relationships differ across Canada from province to province, as the relationships fall under provincial jurisdiction. Some provinces recognize couples that have lived together in a conjugal relationship for a certain period of time to be legally recognized. Other provinces require couples to register for legal status.
Laws also differ among the states in the United states. While individual states have jurisdiction over the legal status of couples, most states do not recognize common law marriages. However, every state will recognize a common-law marriage if it was contracted legally by another state.
Many unmarried couples in long-standing relationships assume that they have acquired rights similar to those of married couples. This is false. Generally, only couples who are legally married or in a civil partnership can rely on the laws when it comes to dividing up finances between them upon divorce or dissolution of the relationship.
Another common belief is that having a child together grants the couple legal rights, whether they are married or not, or in a civil partnership or not. This is also false. There is precedent allowing parties to apply legally for financial compensation when there are children involved. But these arrangements are made only for the benefit of the children. Couples who are married or in a legal civil partnership are the only ones with legal rights and responsibilities related to each other.
If the Relationship Ends
When couples who aren’t married and who aren’t in a civil partnership end the relationship, the parties involved have no legal obligation to pay alimony. This is true even if one person stayed at home to care for the children you have together. One party may still be responsible for paying child support.
If a couple is living together in a rented residence, it’s important to consider who’s named on the lease agreement. If you were not named on the rental agreement, you have no automatic right to remain at the residence if the other person leaves.
Similarly, if you’re not named on the lease and the other person requests that you leave, you would need to apply to court for an order giving you the right to stay. The outcome of such an application is uncertain. If your ex-partner owns your home, and there is no other agreement in place, you have no legal right to stay if your ex asks you to leave.
Likewise, if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, any savings or possessions that your ex acquired during the relationship won’t be required to be shared with you. Lump-sum orders may be made in some circumstances if the interest of children are involved.
Death During The Relationship
If you weren’t married or in a civil partnership and your partner passes away without leaving a will, you won’t automatically inherit anything, not even the home in which the two of you had been living. This is true even if you owned it jointly. Your option is to make a petition to a court for entitlement from the estate as a dependent. Such a petition can be very expensive, and the outcome is not certain.
You also won’t automatically receive state bereavement benefits or state pensions, even if you stayed at home to care for the children you had together and were dependent on your partner.
To protect yourself and to avoid all of these issues that can arise from the end of a relationship with an unclear legal status, attorneys generally recommend that couples enter some type of contractual relationship. This way, parties can agree beforehand, by contract, to rights, obligations and the division of money and property before problems arise.