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Consequences for cohabitating couples

As 2013 came to a close, many couples in Alberta were inspired to talk about their relationships. More people decide to get married and to split in December than at any other point in the year. While married partners may be able to rely on spousal support to recognize the sacrifices that they have made in the marriage, cohabitating couples may not have the same privilege.

Often in relationships, one person receives an opportunity that may negatively affect the other partner. For example, one partner may be offered a new job in a new city. Taking the job may mean more money for one partner while meaning that the other partner may have to leave behind a job in which he or she had spent years of establishing himself or herself. For married couples, spousal support may be available to recognize this sacrifice. However, whether Canadian partners who cohabit are able to receive a benefit of this nature depends on provincial laws regarding couples who reside together without the benefit of marriage and property division rules.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that in Quebec, the government could preclude cohabitating partners from receiving spousal support. This decision implied that, regardless of the number of years that the couple lived together or the degree of sacrifice that one partner made for the other, the court would not view couples in the same way as it does married couples. However, British Columbia passed new legislation that is quite to the contrary. There, the legislation recognized cohabitating couples as married, as long as they had been together for two years or more.

In Alberta, couples must cohabit in a relationship of "interdependence" for three years (or less than three if there is a child of the relationship), before gaining entitlement to claim spousal support.

Because laws about cohabitation continue to change, couples who live together may decide to talk with a family law lawyer. This individual may be able to describe their legal rights and the implications of these rights.

Source: The Globe and Mail, "For common-law couples, 2013 was a 'we need to talk' year", Marina Adshade, December 30, 2013

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