Blog - June 7, 2021
It’s pretty easy to assume that there isn’t a difference between a legal marriage and a common-law relationship. Most of the day to day interactions you might have with your marital status typically treat the two as the same, or at least similar. But there’s more to it than whether you put a ring on.
You live together, and you file your taxes together. You might have kids together. These are all areas where there isn’t a lot of difference between marriage and common-law. Unfortunately, this can make you think that there aren’t any differences at all.
The reality is that where the differences do lay, it’s in the big stuff: separation and death. The bad news is that this also differs by province. Some provinces have worked to equate common-law couples with the same rights as married couples, but even that can be not easy to navigate. Other regions haven’t worked at all to update legislation.
There are different rules surrounding the division of property on the breakdown of a relationship if the status of that relationship was married vs if it was common-law.
Also, unlike a marriage, there isn’t a formal process for dissolving a common-law relationship. If things sour, as unfortunately can happen, you could be left fighting in court for equal treatment of shared assets rather than having a right to it.
Your marital status can also impact how easy or possible it will be for you to inherit your spouse or partner’s assets, particularly if there’s no will in place.
There’s also a matter of proving the relationship if things come to a fight. Whether a relationship ended in separation or death, a marriage is a defined legal structure; there is a beginning, middle and end. In the event an estate is contested, your spousal status can be more easily proven. A common-law relationship doesn’t come with as much surety. Having to establish when precisely a relationship started can be difficult, especially considering each province sets the amount of time that must pass before a common-law relationship is recognized.
Which spousal status is right for you is a decision only you can make. Assuming that there isn’t any difference shouldn’t be the basis of that decision. When in doubt, ask a legal expert.
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