An Overview of the Rights of Common Law Spouses in Ontario

January 1, 2021

Two people who live together in a marriage-like relationship without being legally married are said to be in a common law relationship.  In Ontario, common law partners do not have all of the same rights as married spouses.  It is important to be aware of the differences so that you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family.  Your family law lawyer can help.

Child support: rights and responsibilities

Child support is the right of every child, whether or not their parents were ever married.  Common law partners and married spouses have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to demanding or paying child support for the children they have together. 

In addition, if your common law partner acted as a parent toward your child from a previous relationship, they may be responsible for paying child support after the relationship ends. 

Spousal support for common law spouses

Common law partners may have a claim for spousal support if:

  • they have cohabited for a minimum of three years or
  • they have a child together and had “a relationship of some permanence.”

Disputes often arise as to whether two people living together were in a common law relationship or when that relationship started or ended.  Factors such as:

  • whether the parties had a sexual relationship,
  • whether they managed their finances together and
  • whether they presented themselves as a couple to others

play a role in how a court will define the relationship. 

Property rights in Ontario

The Ontario law that governs the division of family property for married spouses does not apply to common law spouses.  If you and your common law partner separate, the division of your house, furniture and other assets will depend on:

  • the terms of a cohabitation agreement, if you have one,
  • which party owned or purchased a particular asset and
  • whether the other party contributed (financially or otherwise) to the purchase or maintenance of an asset.

If the family home is owned by only one common law spouse, the other spouse does not have an automatic right to stay in the family home once the parties separate.  However, if the court makes an order for child support or spousal support, the recipient may be permitted to stay in the family home as part of their support order, even if they are not an owner of the home.

What if my common law spouse dies?

If your common law partner dies without a will, their property will go to their family (children, parents or siblings) not to you.  While this will not affect property that you own jointly with your common law spouse, it is still better to have a will and avoid any uncertainty and confusion. 

It is important for everyone to have a will, but it is especially important for common law spouses.

The Family Law Lawyers from Knights Law Professional Corporation Can Help

Whether you are just starting a relationship, or your relationship is coming to an end, a qualified Ontario family lawyer can help you to understand your rights and responsibilities so you can protect your family.  Call Knights Law Professional Corporation today for a consultation.

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