In the general sense, a common-law partnership in Canada is defined as two people who live together in a conjugal relationship for at least one year. For those of us living in a common-law partnership or considering taking the leap, understanding the legal implications may seem like an overwhelming, even daunting task. But rest assured, you’re not alone on this journey. It’s incredibly important, and indeed empowering, to understand your rights and responsibilities within a common-law relationship.
In Canada, each province and territory has its own laws regarding common-law relationships, and this can sometimes create a sense of complexity. But don’t let this intimidate you; this blog will guide you through common-law relationships and help shed light on this often misunderstood area of law. However, remember that this definition might slightly vary depending on the province or territory.
Let’s take a generic look at your legal rights in a common-law partnership in Canada:
Unlike in a marriage, common-law partners in most provinces and territories don’t have an automatic right to equal division of property upon separation. Each partner generally keeps what they own.
Exception: In certain provinces like British Columbia, common-law partners have the same property rights as married couples after living together for a certain period. They share the value of all property accumulated during the relationship and the increase in the value of property brought into the relationship.
Just like married couples, common-law partners can be obligated to provide financial support for each other both during the relationship and after it ends, depending on the circumstances. Some factors that contribute to support obligations include the length of the relationship, financial dependency, and roles each partner played in the relationship.
Regardless of marital status, biological parents have legal rights and responsibilities towards their children. Both parents are required to financially support their children, and each has an equal right to custody.
If a common-law couple separates, decisions about child custody, access, and support are made based on the child’s best interests. Non-biological parents can also apply for these rights, particularly if they have acted as a parent to the child. For appropriate legal advice, contact a reputable family law firm in your city.
Without a will, a deceased partner’s property is distributed according to intestacy laws, which vary by province and territory. In many places, common-law partners are not automatically entitled to inherit their partner’s property if they die without a will.
However, if a partner dies with a will, the surviving common-law partner can inherit any property or assets as specified in the will.
Tip: It’s a good idea for common-law partners to make a will and clearly state their wishes regarding the distribution of their property upon their death.
Health Care Decisions
Making healthcare decisions is a delicate balance of respecting individual rights while acknowledging the intimate bonds we share with our partners. In Canada, common-law partners do have the right to make healthcare decisions for each other in the event one partner becomes incapacitated. This can be a comforting reassurance in a relationship; knowing that someone who deeply understands your values and wishes has the legal power to carry them out. However, please bear in mind that this right is not automatic and typically requires a legal document, such as a Power of Attorney for Personal Care, to be in place.
Pensions and Social Benefits
Common-law partners have the same rights as married couples to their partner’s pensions, and social benefits, including the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). This equality is a testament to the recognition and respect that common-law relationships receive in our society. Moreover, common-law partners are also entitled to insurance benefits. If your partner’s insurance policy names you as a beneficiary, then you have the right to claim these benefits. This applies to various forms of insurance, including life, health, and auto.
To ensure your relationship is legally recognized in the eyes of Canadian law, you might need to provide certain pieces of evidence. Think of this as leaving a paper trail of your shared life and commitment.
It is a good idea to have both your names on rental agreements or utility bills. These documents not only prove that you share a household, but they also show you have joint financial responsibilities. Joint bank accounts are another type of evidence. They indicate a shared understanding of financial interdependence, highlighting mutual trust.
Laws can vary greatly by province and territory, so it’s always a good idea to seek legal advice to understand your specific rights and obligations. Our experienced family lawyers at Sterling Law offer first free consultation (up to 30 minutes) and would be happy to provide you with legal advice about your common-law partnership. Get in touch today.