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How does living common-law affect social assistance or disability benefits?

Region: Ontario Answer # 0128

In Ontario, eligible low-income individuals may be able to receive social assistance under Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODPS). The rules for OW and ODSP are the same for married couples and common-law couples.

If you are living in a common-law relationship, you must inform OW or ODSP. You cannot receive benefits as a single person. You must include your common-law spouse’s income on your application for benefits. OW and ODSP will look at the income and assets of both you and your partner to decide if you qualify to receive assistance as a couple.

Who is considered to be living common-law?

To receive OW or ODSP benefits as part of a common-law couple, you must meet the definition of a spouse. You are considered a spouse if:

  • you have lived with someone for at least three months, and
  • you have lived with someone as a couple (not as two single people), and
  • one of you supports the other financially, or you are both financially interdependent (such as owning things jointly, or utilities are in both your names), OR
  • your partner legally supports you or your child.

You do not need to be in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Can I still receive benefits if I am not living with my common-law partner?

You may still qualify for benefits if OW and ODSP believe you are a couple but are not living together because you or your spouse:

  • is working or looking for work somewhere else, or
  • is away at school, or
  • is in another country waiting to immigrate to Canada, or
  • you are living apart but there is still a chance you might get back together.

How else can OW and ODSP determine if you are a spouse?

When you apply for benefits, depending on your situation, you may be asked to provide information regarding your partner or your relationship to confirm you qualify as a spouse. Questions may include:

  • Do you and your partner own assets or property together (such as joint bank accounts, a vehicle in both names etc.)?
  • Do you and your partner share responsibility for debts (such as joint credit cards, rent etc.)
  • Do friends and family think you are a couple?
  • Do your children think you are a couple?
  • Do schools, doctors, day care, or other services and organizations you deal with think you are a couple?
  • Does the person you are living with act as a parent to your children?
  • Do you act as a parent to your partner’s child?

If you do not provide the information that is asked for, your claim may be denied or your benefits can be cut off. For more information about Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, refer to topic #717 Social Assistance and disability benefits.

A criminal record will affect child custody and adoption. To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-877-219-1644 or learn more at Federal Pardon Waiver Services. It’s easier than you think.

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 social assistance and disability benefits and common-law relationships, and other family law matters, contact a family law lawyer.


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