Common law relationships: what happens when they end?
Common law separations can be more difficult than divorce because there is little legislation in Alberta to regulate the division of property.
So what does this mean if you’re facing the end of your common law relationship?
It’s important to understand the legal implications of a break-down in your common law relationship. Unlike legal marriage, common law relationships are only governed by the Adult Interdependent Relations Act and the Family Law Act, but they are legally binding relationships and are just as prone to legal disputes.
What is a common-law relationship in Alberta?
The term “common‑law” is used in everyday language to describe an unmarried couple living together, regardless of whether or not they have children. Under the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, this type of relationship is legally referred to as an adult interdependent relationship, and partners are referred to as adult interdependent partners.
Under this legislation, two people become adult interdependent partners if: (please note spacing for this list)
- they live in a relationship of interdependence for a continuous period of at least 3 years
- or, of some permanence, if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption
- or, the couple has entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement
In this scenario, a relationship of interdependence is defined as a relationship outside of marriage in which two people:
- share one another’s lives
- are emotionally committed to one another, and
- function as an economic and domestic unit
Now you know how to get into a common law relationship (under the law). What happens if you want to get out?
Ending a common law relationship
Common law separations don’t end in divorce. The end is a far less formal event. The clearest way to signify the end of your common law relationship is to indicate in writing that you intend to live separate and apart, and that there is no possibility of reconciliation.
Failing a formal written statement, your common‑law (or interdependent) relationship is also considered over if:
- you live separate and apart for one year, and one or both of you intends that your adult interdependent relationship is over
- you marry each other, or one of you marries a third person
- you are deemed to be in an interdependent relationship under the criteria, but you have no formal agreement indicating you are adult interdependent partners, and one of you enters into an adult interdependent partner agreement with a third person, or
- one or both of you obtain a declaration of irreconcilability under the Family Law Act
Spousal & child support
This is one situation where common law partners are treated the same under the law as their married counterparts. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act treats common law partners as spouses, and therefore allows you to claim spousal support under the Family Law Act. There is also a financial obligation for child support if you had children during your common law relationship. Child support supersedes spousal support.
Division of property & assets
Common law couples do not have the same property rights as married couples, so it’s incorrect to assume you have an automatic right to claim against your partner’s assets, or that property acquired during the relationship is automatically shared equally when the relationship ends.
However, provisions exist for you to make a claim if you feel you are entitled to an interest in or compensation for any contributions you made toward the acquisition, preservation or maintenance of a property you shared with your common law partner. You may also make a claim for the division of Canada Pension Plan credits.
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