Your Common-Law Relationship Questions Answered!

Common-law relationships have grown in popularity over the last decade. According to the 2016 census, one-fifth of all Canadians are now in a common-law relationship. Common law-relationships have tripled in Ontario since 1981.1

Common-law typically refers to two people in a romantic relationship that live together but are not married. Despite the rise in popularity, there are still many misconceptions about common-law relationships.

Four Popular Misconceptions About Common-Law Relationships

1. Common-Law Relationship Laws Are Treated The Same Across The Country

Common-law relationships are not treated the same across Canada. Each province is responsible for creating its own laws surrounding the rights and remedies of common-law partners. Unlike marriage, these laws vary quite dramatically from province to province.

Many provinces have some sort of common-law standing, except for Quebec. Quebec does not recognize common-law relationships at all.

In Ontario, you are considered common-law once you have been living together in a conjugal relationship for a minimum of three years. However, if you have a child together, either naturally or via adoption, you must only have lived together for one year.

2. If A Common-Law Couple Breaks Up, Assets Are Divided

Unless there is a cohabitation agreement or some other legal agreement created between the common-law couple, then there are no laws surrounding the division of property acquired during the relationship.

There is no such thing in Ontario as matrimonial property. However, if you’ve been in a common-law relationship and you’ve contributed to a property that the other person owns, you can make a claim for property. A claim for the property is not unique to common-law relationships though. Anyone who has contributed to any other person’s property can make a claim for property.

This is different in British Columbia though. In B.C., if a common-law partnership breaks up, partners are entitled to a 50/50 split of assets and shared debts. This excludes pre-relationship property or any inheritances.

3. You Are Only Entitled To Spousal Support If You Were Married, Not Common-Law

In many common-law splits, spousal support is not awarded. However, the same is true for many divorces. Both are possible though; it just depends on other factors.

Spousal support is not typically very commonly awarded. One party must be seen as entitled to it. This usually means that there would be economic consequences to the break-up for one party. A common example of this would be if one partner gave up their career to care for the children and therefore was reliant on the other one’s income.

4. Children Have No Bearing On Common-Law Status

Children have a huge impact on common-law standing in all provinces. As stated earlier, you must live together for three years in Ontario to be considered common-law. However, when a couple has a child, they only need to be living together for one year to be considered common-law.

Even in Quebec, a province that doesn’t recognize common-law, children are considered extenuating circumstances.

Are Two People Who Live Together Considered Common-Law, Regardless Of Relationship?

The short answer is no. Ontario only considers those who have been living together for more than three years in a conjugal relationship as common-law.

A conjugal relationship is more than just a romantic or sexual relationship. In Canada, a conjugal relationship only exists when two people share an emotional connection, as well as sharing a home and finances.

Additionally, two people who do not meet the requirements for common-law can still protect themselves if they wish to live together and share expenses. You can sign a cohabitation agreement, which will outline who is entitled to what in the event of separating or moving out. A cohabitation agreement can be signed after you’ve already been living together, however, it’s advised that you sign one before moving in.

You Cannot Be Common-Law And Married To The Same Person

If you are married to your spouse, you cannot also be common-law to them. However, you can still be legally married to your spouse and live common-law with someone else. If you are separated from your spouse and living with someone else for more than three years or share a home and child with them, you will be considered common-law.

Two Main Changes When Entering A Common-Law Relationship Vs. A Regular Relationship

  1. You and your partner are considered spouses when it comes to government documents, programs, and workplace benefits. Certain benefits can still exempt you however if they specify that they are only available for married spouses.
  2.  You and your partner will now have spousal support obligations to one another.

Common-Law Relationships Are Not Protected In The Family Law Act

The Family Law Act in Ontario only protects married couples, not common-law relationships.

Certain aspects of the separation are treated the same, such as custody, access, and child support. Spousal support is also treated the same as a traditional marriage if the couple has lived together for at least three years or has lived together for less than three years but share a child together.

However, the process for dividing property in a common-law marriage is quite different than traditional marriage. Equalization payment doesn’t exist in common-law separations to divide the couple’s finances. Usually, the party that bought the item or asset owns it, but you may have to prove you were in fact the one who bought it.

In some scenarios, common-law partners may have to divide their assets if they can show they acted like a married couple as opposed to a “joint family venture”. Even in these scenarios though, a different method of dividing assets is used than in traditional marriages.

How Do You End A Common-Law Relationship?

If you want to end your common-law relationship, you can just end it. However, you may find you need a lawyer if you’re having difficulties coming to an agreement about shared assets with your partner.

If you share a child with your common-law partner, then you may find you need a lawyer to help establish custody, access, and support.

No Matter Whether You’re Married, Common-Law Or Cohabitating, De Rose Can Help

We work tirelessly and passionately for every one of our clients. This has earned up a sterling reputation among the legal community.

Our team is dedicated to helping families by taking a personal approach with every client. This helps ensure a positive experience for everyone. If you are considering your options with your partner, we can help walk you through the benefits of each option. If you are looking to separate from your partner and want to ensure your rights are protected, we can help with this too.

We empower our clients by providing them with flexible appointments, affordable legal fees, and valuable tools.


  1. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170802/dq170802a-eng.htm