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Am I in a Common-Law Relationship?

Imagine this; you meet someone, fall in love, and move in together.

For twenty years, you pay for all the vacations, dates, and bills. Then one day, you find out your spouse has been unfaithful, and you decided to leave the relationship for good. Fast forward two years and you are being sued by your ex for spousal payments, even though you were never legally married.

This is a true case example. In 2020 a judge ruled against Randi Jakobson in which she was ordered to pay over $20,000 yearly to her ex-boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the nuances of a common-law relationship often come to light during the dissolution of the relationship. If you think you are in a common-law relationship, then it is vital that you stay informed about the law. Below, we discuss valuable facts about common-law marriages.

What is a Common-Law Relationship?

Generally, common-law refers to two people who live and present as a married couple through the court's eyes. No ceremonial or legal event needs to occur to receive this status. Yet, there are specific criteria that couples must meet to be in a common-law relationship.


Is Common-Law Automatic?


There is often a specific amount of time that a couple must cohabitate conjugally for common-law consideration. Courts also consider a couple to be recognized as common-law spouses if they share a child.

Keep in mind, the legal definition of common-law relationships changes from province to province, as does the number of consecutive years a couple needs to be living together conjugally to be considered common-law in the eyes of the court.


How Do I Know if I am in a Common-Law Marriage in Ontario?


Ontario’s law states that a couple who have lived together conjugally for three consecutive years are considered to be common-law married. Couples who share a child need only live together for one year for the same consideration.

Although common-law marriage is not as simple as the legal definition might imply, in practice, marriage laws allow for subtleties that are not always clear.


Common-Law Complications


This distinction between legal marriage and common-law marriage is plain in divorce cases. For one, in a legal marriage, a marriage certificate is all that is required to prove the marriage is real. In comparison, your family lawyer must establish the existence of a common-law relationship.


Classification of Your Status in a Relationship

The evidence evaluated ranges from how others addressed you, such as in greeting cards, to how you identified your ex in legal documents.

Unfortunately, most couples are not consistent with how they classify each other. For example, one may check the spouse box on a passport form but file taxes as a single.


Co-Habitation in Common-Law


Even obvious terms are interpreted case by case. For example, the term "cohabitation" means to live together, however, a couple does not need to live together for a judge to determine cohabitation.

In Climans v. Latner (2020), a judge ruled that they cohabited although they had separate residences. The judge based their ruling on that during their 14-year relationship, they:

  • Had dinner together every night

  • Often spent the night together

  • Lived together during vacations

As a result of this ruling, the respondent was responsible for over $50,000 in monthly spousal payments.

How to Prevent Future Legal Woes

The best way to prevent issues from arising in a common-law relationship is to be prepared. Most importantly, have a separation agreement created together. It is also recommended that you each have a will to protect your property and financial assets should either of you pass away.

It may seem dismaying to consider the end of a relationship, it is better to make decisions while everyone is level-headed, and the relationship is free from fraught emotion.

A trusted family attorney is crucial in navigating the law. Baker Doodnauth is a team of family lawyers based out of Newmarket, Ontario and provide professional legal services in Newmarket and across York Region.

Contact them today for more information about how common-law marriage laws affect you or for expert legal guidance and advice today.




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