Common-Law vs Marriage - A Key Legal Difference

According to Statistics Canada, between 2006 and 2011, the number of common-law couples in Canada rose almost 14%, a whopping four times as many as the number of couples who got married over the same period. Despite the increase, there's still a thick fog of confusion surrounding the rights and obligations of cohabiting couples in Canada. That's not surprising, given the vastly differing laws that govern such relationships in each province.

In British Columbia, common-law couples have the same rights and obligations as their married counterparts. Cross the nation over to Quebec and unmarried couples have no legal obligations to one another no matter how long they live together.

Ontario lies a bit in between the two. The length of time that couples must live together in a conjugal relationship before being considered common-law spouses differs depending on the particular law in question. For most areas, it's three years - but no minimum if the couple has a child together.

Although many areas of family law treat common-law and married couples the same, the biggest difference in Ontario is in the area of property division. Without the benefit of marriage, common-law couples who separate don't automatically split family property 50/50 as do married couples. When the relationship ends, each party keeps full ownership of property that he or she originally brought into the relationship, along with any increase in the value of such property. Under some circumstances, the other spouse can seek a share, but this is a complex area of law that we'll treat in a future post.

Each party also keeps property purchased after moving in together, provided that such was purchased with his or her own funds. Only property that the couple purchased jointly during the relationship must be shared.

One of the ways that common-law couples can navigate the limitations of this property division framework is to have a legally binding cohabitation agreement - and best to do so at the beginning of the relationship than at the end. Don't have one yet? Call us. We can help.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

shameless self promotion

  • Quinn Ross Takes Office As President Of The Ontario Bar Association

    The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) is pleased to announce Quinn Ross as the 83rd President of the OBA.

    Ross, Managing Partner of The Ross Firm, with offices in Goderich, Kincardine and Stratford, has been an active member in senior roles on the OBA board since 2012.

    Read More

  • Ross Firm Golf Tourney In Support of Huron Women’s Shelter a Swinging Success

    On behalf of the Huron Women’s Shelter and The Ross Firm P.C., we say “THANK YOU” to our many Sponsors and Donators for their outpouring of generosity and support for the annual Take a Swing Against Violence Golf Tournament held at Goderich Sunset Golf Club.

    Read More

  • Who needs a Will? You do!

    Our guests can explain why. Are you single and renting? A new Family? Or Homeowner? Enjoying your Golden Years? We all need a Will and our guest speakers will show you the why and the way.

    Read More

  • Take a Swing Against Violence

    On June 21, 2017, the Huron Women’s Shelter Second Stage Housing and Counselling Services, Board of Directors and The Ross Firm will be hosting the Taking a Swing Against Violence golf tournament at the Goderich Sunset Golf Course.

    Read More

View All

Send Us An Email. Talk To Us. We Can Help.

To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers, contact The Ross Firm online or give us a call toll free at 888-567-4917.

Contact Us

Goderich Office
144 Courthouse Square
Suite 100
Goderich, ON N7A 1M9

Toll Free: 888-567-4917
Fax: 519-524-8438
Map & Directions

Stratford Office
1 Ontario Street
2nd Floor
Stratford, ON N5A 3G7

Toll Free: 888-567-4917
Fax: 519-814-5533
Map & Directions

Kincardine Office
943 Queen Street
Kincardine, ON N2Z 2Y8

Phone: 226-396-5532
Fax: 226-396-5533
Map & Directions