In Ontario, if you and your partner have lived together for three or more years, or if you have a child together, you may have legal obligations to one another, even if you are not married.
Many people do not realize that being in a common law relationship involves a wide range of legal and financial obligations that are, in some cases, similar or the same as the obligations that married spouses have to one another. Not being aware of these obligations, or failing to proactively address them, can result in uncertainty and even costly litigation.
In some cases, cohabiting couples may have the same right to spousal support upon breakdown of a marriage that married couples have. Entitlement to spousal support depends on the individual circumstances of the relationship and its breakdown.
If a party is entitled to spousal support, determining the appropriate amount of support will depend on a variety of factors including the income and needs of each party, the ability of the payor spouse to provide support, any children of the relationship, and the age, self-sufficiency and employment prospects of the recipient spouse.
Ontario law obligates parents, whether they are married or common law, to support their children. Generally, parents are obligated to support children until they turn 18, until they finish school (including post-secondary education), or longer if the child has a disability.
Child support is generally paid to the parent with whom the children live primarily. Where children split their time equally (or close to), child support may be owing from each parent to the other. The amount to be paid is dependant on the income of the non-custodial parent and the number of children being supported.
Unlike married spouses, common law spouses may not have:
After the breakdown of a common law relationship, the assumption is that each partner will keep everything they personally own or that which is in their name. Items that have been purchased together during the relationship are often jointly divided.
However, this does not mean that common law couples do not have options or legal recourse when it comes to property to which they have contributed but which is in the name of the other party. Common law partners have equitable remedies available to them, most commonly being claims for unjust enrichment, in relation to contributions they may have made to assets in the other party’s name.
The current state of the law regarding non-married partners leaves a significant lack of certainty upon the breakdown of the relationship. To reduce this uncertainty, common law spouses can enter into Cohabitation Agreements (similar to a marriage contract for married couples) in order to proactively determine what they intend to happen if their relationship ever breaks down.
Cohabitation Agreements are drafted to reflect the individual circumstances of the parties and typically address things such as:
If a common law couple decides to marry, a Cohabitation Agreement can be drafted such that it becomes a Marriage Contract should the parties get married in the future.
Our highly skilled Toronto family law lawyers work in conjunction with the lawyers in our other practice groups to thoroughly address considerations commonly associated with the breakdown of common law relationships including real estate matters, estate plans and Wills, and restructuring of businesses.
We regularly advise clients on all matters related to common law relationships including:
If you are in a common law relationship or have experienced the breakdown of such a relationship and would like to discuss your legal rights, please contact our family lawyers at 416-863-0125 or send us an email.