Am I in a Common-Law Relationship?

In Saskatchewan, The Family Property Act and The Family Maintenance Act defines “spouse” as either two persons who are legally married or have been cohabiting with the other person as spouses continuously for at least two years (often referred to as a “common-law relationship”). This means that once you have cohabitated with another person continuously for at least two years, the same rights arise under these acts as couples who are legally married. Meeting the above definition of spouse triggers certain rights and obligations with respect to property owned both together and individually as well as support.

Unlike legal marriage where you have a definite ‘start’ date, the date when people commence cohabitation is dependant on several factors and may not necessarily be when one or both persons think. There are also many misconceptions about preventing the ‘cohabitation clock’ from starting which includes: not changing your address, filing a tax return as single, keeping separate bank accounts, owing/maintaining separate homes or paying the other person rent.

There are several factors that the Court will consider when determining if two people are cohabitating as spouses and when it commenced. These include:

  • Do they live together?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements?
  • Do they have an exclusive relationship with one another?
  • Do they eat meals together?
  • What are their feelings toward one another?
  • What is the conduct between them about:

    • Preparation of meals;
    • Washing of clothes;
    • Shopping for groceries; and
    • Household upkeep and maintenance.
  • Do they participate together or separately in activities, including but not limited to, work functions, weddings, family gatherings, etc.
  • How do their neighbours, co-workers, friends, families view the couple?
  • What are their financial arrangements or attitudes?

The above list is not exhaustive and no factor is determinative. Courts will still examine the relationship as a whole to make their determination. It is also important to note that a temporary break-up or separation does not necessarily restart the ‘cohabitation clock’.

Couples can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement which is a contract made between them allowing them to protect their individual assets and set out what rights and responsibilities each person has should the relationship end in the future. A Cohabitation Agreement can be tailored to a couple’s specific needs and requires each person receives independent legal advice with respect to the Agreement.

If you have further questions about your rights and obligations under The Family Property Act and Family Maintenance Act, the definition of ‘spouse’, cohabitation, or Cohabitation Agreements, Robertson Stromberg’s team of Family Law lawyers would be happy to assist you.

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LawyersAndrew R GaucherAm I in a Common-Law Relationship?