Living Together: Top-Down View Of Cohabiting Couples’ Rights In Ontario

When Stats Canada first started collecting data on common-law living back in 1981, these families represented only 5.6% of those surveyed. Fast forward thirty years and the numbers have swelled to 16.7%. Yet, despite the growing popularity, many such couples are still not sure where they stand under the law – and that can be risky if the relationship ends. Our post this week is the first in a series about the basics that cohabiting couples need to know.

Treatment Differs From Province To Province

Each province has its own laws governing common-law relationships. In British Columbia, both married and unmarried spouses enjoy the same status. Some provinces allow cohabiting couples to register their “domestic partnership”.

Here in Ontario, it’s a very different picture. No matter how long a couple has lived together in a “marriage-like” relationship, there is a definite difference between being married and not.

Legal Rights Whats The Same

One area in which all parents uniformly enjoy access to the same rights is in matters related to their children. When cohabiting parties separate, they can apply for the same rights as married parents in:

  • Child custody
  • Access
  • Child support

Where children are concerned, their best interests are paramount, regardless of whether the parents are married or not.

Legal Rights Whats Different

In a few key areas, Ontario law treats unmarried couples very distinctly from married ones. When a common-law relationship ends, there are limited, if any, rights regarding:

  • Dividing assets and debts
  • Living in the family home
  • Inherited property

Unlike married couples, cohabiting parties do not enjoy an equal 50/50 split.

Everything Else In Between

In some areas, cohabiting parties may be treated similarly to married spouses. These include rights and responsibilities to:

  • Seek spousal support
  • Apply for governmental benefits as a couple
  • Report income and claim credits in tax filings
  • Make decisions on health care
  • Sponsor a partner as an immigrant

Drawing on the provisions depends on a number of factors including the length of the relationship and whether children are involved.

In the cohabitation context, legal rights and responsibilities can be complicated. Before entering or exiting such a relationship, seeking legal advice is prudent.

Living common law?

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