Understanding Common-Law Relationships in BC

The status granted to couples living together outside of a traditional marriage differs from one province to another. British Columbia couples living together share the share the same rights and privileges enjoyed by married couples provided they have cohabited for at least two years. The differences in the laws of the different provinces can be striking. For example, couples in a common-law relationship in Ontario do not have the same property rights enjoyed by married couples, but couples in a common-law relationship in British Colombia have the same rights are couples in a traditional marriage. Here are important things to know about proving common-law relationships in British Columbia.

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Common-law Relationships in British Columbia

The Family Law Act of British Columbia defines a “spouse” as someone married to another person. The relationship existing between spouses and the rights that go with that relationship begin on the date of the marriage. The law includes in its definition of “spouse” someone living together with another person for at least two years in a marriage-like relationship. The two-year period is shortened if they had a child together.

Legal recognition as a spouse is important because it grants rights other provinces reserve exclusively for couples who are in a traditional marriage. British Columbia couples in a common-law relationship are entitled to an equal share of assets acquired during the relationship when they split up. Ontario, in contrast, grants such property division rights to individuals in a marriage who divorce, but do not grant them to couples in a common-law relationship who split up.

Proving a British Columbia common-law relationship

Common-law relationships lack the legal formalities required for couples entering a traditional marriage. Before a couple may get married in British Columbia, one of the parties must apply for a marriage licence at least three months before the ceremony. The ceremony must be performed by someone who is licensed to officiate at marriage ceremonies.

The government mails a marriage certificate to the couple following the marriage ceremony. The certificate is proof of the marriage. Couple

Couples living in a common-law relationship do not have the convenience of a marriage certificate to prove the existence of their relationship. Instead, they must prove the existence of existence of a marriage-like relationship and the fact it has existed for at least two years.

There is no one thing that will prove you and another person were in a common-law relationship. The manner in which the parties to the relationship conduct themselves is what establishes it as a common-law relationship as opposed to something else, such as a dating relationship. Factors a court might look at to determine if a person is a spouse under the law might include:

  • Residing in the same home
  • Sleeping together
  • Sexually active
  • Holding themselves out to the public as spouses
  • Purchasing gifts for each other
  • Acquiring assets together
  • Share financial responsibilities
  • Shared parenting of children born of the relationship

Driver’s licenses showing the same address, joint bank accounts, shared utility bills and rental leases, and other documents indicating the couple share their lives together could be used to prove a common-law relationship.

Getting sound legal advice

Important legal rights could be lost if you are unable to prove you were in a common-law relationship in British Columbia. The advice of a lawyer familiar with the laws in British Columbia pertaining to common-law relationships and experienced in proving the existence of such relationships is essential to protect your property and financial rights.