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Understanding Common Law Relationships in British Columbia

What is a Common Law Relationship?

A common law relationship is a union between two individuals who live together in a marriage-like relationship but have not formally married. These relationships are legally recognized, and couples who meet the criteria for a common law partnership have legal rights and responsibilities comparable to those in a traditional marriage.

Notably, both “common law marriage” and “common law spouse” are terms that are not used in either the Family Law Act or the Divorce Act. Those couples who have lived together in a common law relationship are not married are not required to get a divorce to end their relationship despite being recognized as spouses.

Requirements for Establishing a Common Law Relationship

In British Columbia, several factors determine the establishment of a common law relationship. These factors include:

  1. Cohabitation: Couples must live together in a conjugal relationship for a specific duration of time. It typically takes between two to three years of cohabitation to be considered common-law partners or spouses under the Family Law Act. Sometimes, in the case when there are kids involved, this duration can be less than two years.

  2. Living Arrangements: The couple must reside together in the same household. Whether the couple did so in the nature of roommates or in the nature of a couple is important. The Courts will consider the objective evidence of the parties’ lifestyle and interactions and whether they closely resemble those of typical married couples.

  3. Exclusivity and commitment: To be classified as common law partners, the couple must have the mutual intention to be together in a married-like relationship. The couples expectations of whether the relationship would be lengthy and of indeterminate duration is relevant. Further, evidence of emotional interdependence, mutual commitment and attachment as well as co-mingled assets and shared expenses are relevant considerations.

Rights and Responsibilities of Common Law Partners

Once a common law relationship is established, couples enjoy certain rights and have obligations similar to those in a traditional marriage. These may include:

  1. Property Rights: common law partners are entitled to a fair division of property if the relationship ends. The laws governing the division of property are based on principles of fairness, considering factors such as the length of the relationship, each partner's contribution, and the welfare of any children.

  2. Spousal Support: If the common law relationship ends, one partner may be entitled to receive spousal support from the other, depending on their respective financial circumstances and the duration of the relationship.

  3. Parental Rights and Responsibilities: Common law partners who have children together have the same parental rights and responsibilities as married couples. This includes decision-making power regarding the child's upbringing, support obligations, and parenting time arrangements.

Understanding the rights and responsibilities that come with a common law partnership is essential for all individuals in such relationships. By recognizing the legal implications of these unions, couples can ensure their rights are protected and their families are provided for in the event of separation or other life-altering circumstances.


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