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What is a Common Law Relationship?

In Family Law there is a popular misconception that couples who live together for a period of six months or more achieve "common law" status and acquire rights and obligations similar to married spouses. In Alberta, there is no formal definition of what constitutes a common law relationship but we have "Adult Interdependent Partners" as defined in the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. There are 3 ways to become an AIP.

1. signing an AIP Contract;

2. living together in a relationship of interdependence for a period of not less than three years;

3. living together in a relationship of some permanence if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption.

A "relationship of interdependence" is defined as 2 non-married persons who:

a) share one another's lives,

b) are emotionally committed to one another, and

c) function as an economic and domestic unit.

Whether or not these persons function "as an economic and domestic unit" depends on the circumstances of the relationship including:

i. whether or not the persons have a conjugal relationship;

ii. the degree of exclusivity of the relationship;

iii. the conduct and habits of the persons in respect of household activities and living arrangements;

iv. the degree to which the persons hold themselves out to others as an economic and domestic unit;

v. the degree to which the persons formalize their legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities toward one another;

vi. the extent to which direct and indirect contributions have been made by either person to the other or to their mutual well-being;

vii. the degree of financial dependence or interdependence and any arrangements for financial support between the persons;

viii. the care and support of children;

ix. the ownership, use and acquisition of property.

Confused yet?

AIPs have the right to apply for spousal support in the event of a separation, or to be supported from the estate of a deceased partner. Unlike married spouses who acquire property rights upon marriage, AIPs do not automatically acquire property rights but must demonstrate they contributed cash, labour or other services.

Family law litigation, including contested support and property claims between AIPs is expensive. Parties who wish to limit their liability must enter a Cohabitation Agreement that sets out their rights and obligations upon separation. Contact Kirk Montoute LLP for information and advice about Cohabitation Agreements. 

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