Common-Law Relationships

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In Ontario, the term “common law” (or cohabitation) is generally understood to refer to those relationships where the couple lives together but where there has not been a legal form of marriage, either in a civil proceeding or through a religious ceremony. However, the term has some specific legal connotations that are important to note.


Ontario’s Family Law Act, for example, defines “common-law marriage” as a union between either an opposite-sex or same-sex couple who have lived together in a “marriage-like” relationship that has lasted at least three years, or who have had a child together in what can be described as a “relationship of some permanence.” (A temporary break-up is usually not enough to interrupt the three-year rule.)

In deciding whether a couple has a common-law relationship, courts will often consider a variety of factors. These include the couple’s lifestyle, their shared accommodation, their personal and sexual habits, their social interaction, any mutual financial support that may be apparent and how they are perceived by those around them.

Legal marriage versus common-law marriage


As in a traditional marriage, common-law partners have certain rights with respect to property and, depending on the circumstances, spousal support.

But there are also major legal distinctions between the rights of married couples and common-law couples. For example—and significantly—common-law partners do not have legislated rights to the matrimonial home. There is also no right to a 50/50 split in connection with shared property.

For a free consultation with an AGB family lawyer to talk about your rights and obligations in either a traditional marriage or a common-law relationship, call us today in Ottawa at  613-232-8832 or email us.
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