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  • Sea to Sky Law

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE versus formal Government Licenced Marriage

Updated: Mar 29, 2023




Statistics Canada provides that in 2017 over 70% of Canadians between the age of 25 to 64 had a partner and that the number in 2016 who were in a "common law" partnership versus formally married had increased to over 20 percent.


The question of course is - what difference does it make whether you formally marry with a government-issued marriage certificate to prove it, or you and your partner just live together? Any differences might not matter while living together in a committed relationship but when separation happens then there can be a question when the "marriage" started or even if you had a legally recognized "common-law" marriage.


If you have a marriage certificate then you have a document proving both the date your marriage started and the fact that you are legally married despite how you share your life with your partner or even how much you and your partner live together. And you remain married, for better or worse, until you have the government-issued document called a divorce order.

However, the definition of a common-law marriage can be different in each jurisdiction. Further, whether you have a child or not can change the criteria. For example, in British Columbia, it must either be agreed or a court determines that you did live together in a "marriage-like relationship" with your partner versus just roommates for at least 24 consecutive months if you want to be able to claim a share of any assets or have your partner share in the accrued debts. But if you have a child together then you can qualify for spousal support with less than 24 months together.


Note - you are not "married" until you have that 24 consecutive months but then suddenly - upon achieving that 24 months - your marriage is suddenly backdated to the start of those 24 months. The result is that any assets or debts you might have acquired separately after you started living in a marriage-like relationship can suddenly become family assets and debts - to the surprise of both of you.


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