Courts Common-law partners in Ontario and most other provinces do not have the same rights as married couples, says a Toronto family law expert.
“Certainly the courts think that people know the difference but I know from my own practice that that’s not the case,” said Nicola Savin of Birenbaum, Steinberg, Landau, Savin and Colraine. Nowadays, Savin said, it’s easy for couples to slip into a common-law situation without really thinking about it because it’s so much more common.
“You live with someone for 20 years and have four children and they walk out on you, you’ve got no property rights,” she said.
Common-law rights falls under provincial jurisdiction. In Ontario, a couple is legally common law three years after the day they start living together, or as soon as they have a child together, either natural or adopted. Under federal law, a common law couple can seek spousal or child support after cohabiting for one year, “But you do not have any property claims,” Savin said.
Under Ontario’s Family Law Act, “property” includes cars, stocks, pensions, RRSPs, money that is owed, shares, the right to purchase shares, the right to collect royalties, jewelry, electronic equipment, furniture, collectibles, art and any interest in an unincorporated business.
If common law couples want to have similar rights to those who are married, they can sign a cohabitation agreement which spells out what both parties want their financial and family arrangements to be.