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Common Law Spouses

You can be a common law spouse under the BC Family Law Act if you:

  1. Lived together in a marriage like relationship for more than 2 years, of
  2. Lived together for less than two years but have a child or children together, and
  3. Are of the same sex or opposite sex.

To be declared “common law” you must be a “spouse” under the Family Law Act. This means that you and your partner must have be in a marriage-like relationship. If you have known or dated your partner for many years but were not in a “marriage-like relationship” with him or her, you may not be a common law spouse.

A marriage-like relationship is proven if you and your partner can prove some or all of the following factors:

  1. Lived together.
  2. Have a child together.
  3. Purchased a home or other property together.
  4. Pooled finances together for family expenses.
  5. Provided financial assistance to one another throughout the relationship.
  6. Attended social gatherings as “spouses”.
  7. Bought gifts for one another.
  8. Were physically intimate.

Learn more about the various qualifying factors here.

What You Need to Know if You Are Common Law

If you are found to be a spouse under the BC Family Law Act, you will essentially have the same obligations towards your ex-partner as a married partner does. These would be:

  1. Spousal Support
  2. Child support
  3. Property and Debt Division

There are three important things you need to know about claims for spousal support and claims for child support against stepparents:

  • A claim for child support against a spouse who is a stepparent must be brought within one year of the stepparent’s last contribution to the support of the child, and cannot be brought until after the spouses have separated.
  • An unmarried spouse must bring a claim for spousal support within two years of the date of separation.
  • An unmarried spouse must bring a claim for the division of property and debt within two years of the date of separation.

Bringing a claim means starting a court proceeding asking for a particular order, not the date when the first application is made in that proceeding.

The date of separation is the date when one or both spouses realize that their relationship is over, says so, and ends the “marriage-like” quality of the relationship. As a result, the “marriage-like” quality of a relationship can terminate before a couple physically separates, and the time limits will usually begin to run from that date rather than the date someone moves out.

It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to understand and protect your rights and learn about your responsibilities in a common law spouse situation.


This article is for general information only and is not legal advice.