Family Law FAQ


Our Family Law Practice answers your most frequently asked questions on important matters that may affect you and your loved ones. Read our FAQ’s so that you may better make informed decisions for your family.

Common Law Relationships

What is a common law relationship?

The definition of a “common law relationship” differs in each province. In BC, common law relationships are governed by the BC Family Law Act. This Act states that you could be considered common law if:

  1. You lived with another person in a marriage like relationship for a continuous period of at least 2 years; or
  2. You lived together with another person for less than 2 years but had a child together.

A “marriage-like relationship” can involve people of any sexual orientation or gender. A “marriage-like relationship” is highly dependent upon the facts in each case and is not solely determined by cohabitation.

What are my rights as a common law spouse?

In BC, common law spouses have all of the same rights as married spouses. However, the exception is that if you are common law with your spouse only on the basis of having a child together, but you have not been living together for at least 2 years, you are not entitled to property rights.

What are the implications of child support and spousal support in common law relationships?

You are legally obligated to pay child support for your children whether you were married, in a common law relationship, or even if you never lived together.

At the end of a common law relationship, you may be entitled to spousal support but you must apply for it. The factors a court may take into account include:

  1. the length of time the spouses cohabited;
  2. the functions performed by each spouse during cohabitation; and
  3. any order, agreement or arrangement relating to support of either spouse.

Some examples the court may look at are: whether you or your spouse were financially dependent on the other; any career sacrifices either of you made during the relationship; the standard of living you are accustomed to (and how this might be impacted by the separation); and time spent on familial obligations. This is by no means an exhaustive list of examples. The analysis is done with a holistic approach and each factor will be weighed.

If eligible for spousal support as a common law partner, you and your partner must come to an agreement on the amount of spousal support to be paid. For convenience and tax purposes, you may prefer it to be paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments. If proceeding with a monthly payment structure, you must also determine when these payments will cease. If no agreement can be reached, the court will determine this for you.

If a person in unable to meet their financial obligations to pay both child and spousal support, child support will take priority.

Can I avoid becoming “common law” with my partner?

In British Columbia, if you have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for 2 years or are living together for a shorter time period and have a child together, you cannot avoid becoming common law with your partner.

In 2013, common law couples were given the same rights as married couples to reflect the changing values and structure of society. It is common nowadays for couples to refrain from getting married due to personal preference, financial status, or other extenuating circumstances. The goal was to ensure that unmarried spouses not be afforded less protection than their married counterparts. However, there are exceptions. There are certain time limitations imposed on unmarried couples that either don’t apply to married couples or are shorter in duration. Care should be taken, if ending a common law relationship, to seek out legal advice and act quickly given these potential limitation periods,

Can I avoid property division with my common law spouse?

Under the BC Family Law Act and subject to any agreement or order providing otherwise,

  1. spouses are both entitled to family property and responsible for family debt, regardless of their respective use or contribution; and
  2. on separation, each spouse has a right to an undivided half interest in all family property as a tenant in common, and is equally responsible for family debt.

One option you have for protecting your property interests is a legally binding Agreement under the Family Law Act, which some refer to as a cohabitation agreement. This contract, executed by you, your spouse, and a witness, will generally deal with property, assets, debts, and potential claims for spousal support should they arise when the relationship is over. Cohabitation agreements may be of particular value when one (or both) of the parties have a substantial amount of assets, are pursuing their respective business ventures, or are anticipating acquiring property or similar assets of significant value. These agreements cannot deal with matters concerning parental responsibilities and/or parenting time, or child support.

At the end of a common law relationship, a separation agreement can be used to assist in settling common law disputes, including property division and potential claims that may arise in the future. If you and your spouse are able to agree on how to handle your property, assets, debts, and potential claims for spousal support, you can record this in the contract. Separation agreements differ from cohabitation agreements in that you are allowed to include clauses concerning parental responsibilities and/or parenting time, and child support, as per the BC Family Law Act.

It is very important that you seek independent legal advice before signing any legally binding documents. It is vital to understand how your rights are affected by such an agreement and the consequential rights and obligations arising from it. Independent legal advice will further serve to ensure that neither party can argue they were unaware of the particulars of the agreement or were at a disadvantage upon signing.

How can I prove that my relationship was common law?

Rights under common law relationships are governed by the BC Family Law Act. This act states that you could be considered common law if:

  1. You lived with another person in a marriage like relationship for a continuous period of at least 2 years; or
  2. You lived together with another person for less than 2 years but had a child together. 

The following are factors that help prove common law relationships in British Columbia:

  1. Did you live under the same roof?
  2. What were the sleeping arrangements?
  3. Did anyone else occupy or share the available accommodation?
Sexual and Personal Behavior:
  1. Did you have sexual relations? If not, why not?
  2. Did you maintain an attitude of fidelity to each other?
  3. What were your feelings toward each other?
  4. Did you communicate on a personal level?
  5. Did you eat meals together?
  6. What, if anything, did you do to assist each other with problems or during illness?
  7. Did you buy gifts for each other on special occasions?

What was your conduct and habits in relation to:

  1. Preparation of meals,
  2. Washing and mending clothes,
  3. Shopping,
  4. Household maintenance,
  5. Any other domestic services?
  1. Did you participate together or separately in neighborhood and community activities?
  2. What was your relationship and conduct towards members of their respective families?

What was the attitude and conduct of the community towards you and as a couple?

Support (Economic):
  1. What were the financial arrangements regarding food, clothing, shelter, recreation, etc.?
  2. What were the arrangements concerning the acquisition and ownership of property?
  3. Was there any special financial arrangement between you which both agreed?

What was the attitude and conduct of the parties concerning children?

It is not necessary to prove each and every factor. This review is done by a holistic approach where all the relevant factors are weighed and considered in their entirety.

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