In Alberta and across Canada, people generally think that a common-law relationship can easily substitute for marriage, especially if they have concerns about tying the knot. However, from the perspective of legal matters and family law, they could face several challenges. One lawyer offered several tips for those considering such a relationship.
In Manitoba, a couple must cohabitate for at least three years in order to be considered common-law. This means that the party who moves into the home owned by the other person will have homestead rights, which transfers as joint ownership and equity in property that is their main residence. Even if the non-owner didn't help with any household bills, the owner won't be able to sell the home without the other person's permission.
The definition of common-law also depends on a number of considerations that looks at all types of factors. The courts make a decision on who is common-law and who isn't on a case-by-case basis. For example, if the couple lives together for 12 months and has a baby together within that time frame, they are defined as common-law. However, this would only affect child support and alimony payments and not property division.
Another way to handle the situation is to register with the Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency as a common-law couple. This helps protect both parties as it gives them rights similar to those granted to married couples. In fact, they must submit a dissolution in the event that they wish to terminate their relationship.
Cohabitation carries certain legal ramifications. A family lawyer might be able to provide clients advice on how to protect themselves if they are debating between a common-law agreement and marriage.
Source: Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency, "Registering or dissolving a common-law relationship," 2013
Source: Huffington Post, "What You Need to Know About Common-Law", Joshua Slayen, November 26, 2013