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What is a common-law relationship?

Region: Ontario Answer # 0121

When two people live together in a conjugal relationship and are not married, they may be considered to be living in a common-law relationship. A conjugal partner is someone with whom you have more than just a sexual or physical relationship.

Once a common-law relationship is determined to exist, a number of rights and obligations arise under:

Both federal, and provincial and territorial laws define the requirements for a common-law relationship to exist for the purposes of these rights and obligations. Also, under various legislation, common-law relationships can be referred to by other names. For example, in Alberta, the law refers to “adult independent relationships”; and in Nova Scotia, they are known as “domestic partnerships”.

Criteria considered in determining if a common-law relationship exists

In all cases, when deciding if a common-law relationship exists for legal purposes, two factors are always considered:

  1. How long the couple has been living together; and
  2. If they have children together.

In addition, other considerations that the Court may use to determine if a couple is in a common-law relationship include:

  • Sexual and personal behaviour: Are they living in a conjugal relationship?
  • Children: Do they act as parent to the other partner’s children?
  • Services: Does each partner help each other the way a traditional family would?
  • Social: Do the partners portray themselves as a couple?
  • Societal: How does the community view their relationship?
  • Economic Support: Does one partner support the other financially, or are household expenses combined?

The rules affecting common-law relationships depend on the province where you live.

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