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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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Getting advice and the legal help you need

Whether you are considering or are already living in a common-law relationship, many couples now seek legal advice and often enter into cohabitation agreements, which set out what will happen should the relationship fail. It is advisable to get the legal help that’s right for you. If you are considering representing yourself in a family law matter, you may wish to get help from The Family Law Coach. Their experienced family law lawyers can provide information, legal assistance, advice and practical tips to help you prepare your case and improve your outcome. They provide specific services for fixed prices, and you only pay for the services you want. If you are considering hiring a lawyer to represent you, for legal advice and assistance regarding common-law relationships and other family law matters, contact a family law lawyer.

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