Six Rights if Your Common Law Relationship Ends

Your relationship is over. Now you ask what about your rights and responsibilities?

Common law or conjugal relationships are pretty similar to marriage.

If you are financially supporting a partner, had an intimate relationship for three or more years, share household expenses and have or care for children, yours could qualify as common law.

Here’s what that means for you.

  1. Child support
    Both you and your partner are financially obligated to support children under 18 and adult children who are dependant on you. That continues if you separate. Courts use federal and provincial guidelines to calculate child support.

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Jacques plays hockey
Gilles takes guitar
You live in the family home and care for the boys
If you separate, your partner could pay living expenses

  1. Custody and care
    As parent, guardian or legally responsible adult (loco parentis), you are responsible for your children’s well-being and care. As a minimum, your child has a right to life after birth and not to be separated from you (unless a court decides otherwise). If you separate, you may apply for custody like any other parents. Expect to go to court and argue for case based on your children’s best interests.
  2. Spousal support
    Couples who separate are expected to become self supporting. Just because your spouse earns more doesn’t mean spousal support is automatic. But courts can be more generous to spouses who relied on family income to support children.

Your spousal support depends on:

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Your financial means and needs
How long you lived together
Your role in the relationship
Its effect on your finances
Who cares for the children
Any spousal support agreements

  1. Property
    Any property you bring to the relationship or own yourself is yours alone. Jointly owned property is shared. It gets more complicated if your partner was unjustly enriched by your relationship.

Proving unjust enrichment is complicated. Just like your contributions to your family, every case is unique. Be prepared to hire a lawyer and go to court to split your wealth. Your case could be decided based on what your services (such as cooking meals) would normally cost. That’s called fee-for-service. Or you could be considered a partner in a joint family venture.

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Your partner’s annual income = $70,000
Your at-home parent income = $0
You could have an unjust enrichment claim

  1. CPP pension credits
    Good news! You only have to live common law for a year to share Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits. They could include:

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CPP retirement pension
Guaranteed Income Supplement
Survivor’s pension
Death benefit
50% of CPP contributions

  1. Employee benefits
    Some employee benefit plans include common law spouses. Even if you have lived together as little as six months. Check your partner’s plan to see if you qualify for:

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Prescription medication
Life insurance
Dental and orthodontics
Physio or other therapies
Pension splitting
Survivor benefits for death or disease

Ask a lawyer for help to make sure you get your fair share.

  1. Your spouse’s estate
    You may be a dependant for will and estate purposes. You must prove you:

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Were receiving support
Had a legal right to support

Kamlai had a court order for spousal support. Qiang died before she could serve it. When his estate is divided, Kamlai could use that order to help her retrain and find work to support herself.

Do You Know Your Rights?
Axess Law family lawyers help you understand your rights as a common law spouse or parent. Email, call or drop in if you have questions.