What is a common-law spouse entitled to in Ontario?

October 16, 2023
October 16, 2023 Plat Simionati

What is a common-law spouse entitled to in Ontario?

Disclaimer: This article aims to provide educational information answering the question, “what is a common law spouse entitled to in Ontario?” It is not intended to serve as legal advice. Consult with a lawyer and exercise your discretion before taking action based on the information provided in the blog. 

In the realm of relationships, not all couples choose to tie the knot in a formal wedding ceremony. Instead, some opt to remain in a common-law partnership. In Ontario, the law recognizes these unions, and while they may not come with the same legal framework as traditional marriages, they carry certain rights.

What is considered a common-law relationship? Do you have rights in Ontario? How can you protect your rights, especially if your common-law relationship were to end? What is a common law spouse entitled to in Ontario?

Those are the questions we will answer in this article. In our next article, we will dive specifically into property rights for common-law couples and what the law says regarding the division of property.   

What is a common-law spouse in Ontario?

Couples must meet specific criteria to be recognized as common-law partners in Ontario. Here’s a breakdown of these criteria:

  1. Cohabitation: Common-law couples must live together, meaning they share a home and domestic life as a couple.
  2. Length of Time: In Ontario, you are generally common-law partners if you’ve lived together for three years or more. You are also a common-law spouse if you have a child together and are in a relationship of some permanence, even if less than three years.
  3. Conjugal Relationship: Even if you meet the duration requirements, you must prove that you have a genuine conjugal relationship. You must demonstrate that your relationship is more than roommates; it includes emotional and financial interdependence, mutual support, and a shared life.

Dividing property when your common-law relationship ends

Dividing property can be complex; we will discuss it separately in a future article. However, it is worth noting that the Family Law Act provisions that deal with the equalization of family property apply solely to married couples. Therefore, outside of any claim for unjust enrichment, items purchased during the relationship belong to the person who paid for them. Any items purchased jointly will usually be divided equally. Each party will retain the property that they brought into the relationship.  Title determines ownership.

There are no formal divorce procedures when a common-law relationship ends.  However, you must decide how to divide your property and assets. A separation agreement is often recommended to outline the division of assets and debts, spousal support, child custody, and other relevant matters. This legally binding agreement can help prevent disputes and ensure a smoother transition during separation.

Parenting time and Decision making responsibility for children in common-law relationships

Regarding children, common-law couples’ legal rights and responsibilities are treated similarly to those of married couples in Ontario. The primary focus is always on the best interests of the child. Any decisions regarding decision-making responsibility or parenting time are made with the child’s well-being as the top priority.

Determining parental rights and responsibilities can be a complex process. Factors such as the child’s age, their relationship with each parent, and the ability of each parent to provide a stable and supportive environment are considered. Similar to their married counterparts, common-law couples need to work together and, if necessary, seek advice from a family law lawyer or attend mediation to ensure that the children’s needs are met during and after separation.

In cases where there is significant economic disparity between common-law spouses and one partner is financially dependent on the other, that spouse may be able to seek spousal support. Establishing a claim for spousal support is essential based on factors like the length of the relationship, each partner’s roles, and their financial circumstances.

Common-law spouses who share children must address parenting time and decision making responsibility issues. Decisions about where the children will live and who will decide about their upbringing must be made.

The importance of cohabitation agreements 

Similar to marriage contracts in traditional marriages, common-law spouses can create cohabitation agreements. These legal contracts outline how property, finances, and other matters will be handled during separation.

A cohabitation agreement, also commonly known as a domestic contract, is a legal document designed for couples who intend to be in a domestic partnership, whether married or in a common-law relationship. This agreement typically outlines various aspects of their relationship and what would happen in the event of a separation or the termination of the relationship.

Your cohabitation agreement commonly includes property division, financial responsibilities during the relationship, spousal support or maintenance obligations, and arrangements for shared assets and debts. The purpose of a cohabitation agreement is to provide clarity and legal protection for both parties, offering a framework for resolving potential disputes and uncertainties that may arise at the end of the relationship.

Other best practices for common-law partners 

There are two other steps that you need to take to protect yourselves.

The first is to consider your estate plans, including updating your beneficiary designation. If your partner dies without a valid will, you will not be treated the same as if you were a legally married spouse.  A common-law partner is not entitled to any of their partner’s estate.  Therefore, you must keep your estate plan current, including beneficiary designations on financial accounts, insurance policies, and other assets. 

If you are concerned about your rights as a common-law spouse or want to clarify your obligations, seek legal advice. A family law lawyer can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Understand your rights with Plat Simionati LLP

In summary, common-law couples do not have the same legal status and rights as married couples. However, they do possess specific rights and obligations under the law. These encompass potential spousal support, and parenting time and decision-making responsibility

Understanding the criteria for common-law relationships, seeking legal advice when needed, and staying informed about legal developments can empower you to protect your rights as a common-law spouse in Ontario.

Understanding your rights and obligations as a common-law spouse is essential for safeguarding your interests during separation or other life changes. This knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions and take proactive steps to protect your rights.

At Plat Simionati LLP, we built our law firm by focusing on family law and practicing it well. We can provide tailored advice and support to help you navigate the complexities of common-law relationships within the legal framework of Ontario.