Common law relationships
When two people of the opposite sex or same sex live together and they are not married, they may be considered to be living in a “common law” relationship. If you are living in a common law relationship, you will have a number of rights and obligations arising under family law, tax law, welfare and family benefits and employee benefit plans. Different rules apply for each of these areas of law.
Family law issues
If you are considered to be living in a common law relationship under family law, you may have an obligation to financially support your spouse if you separate. There are two ways for a common law relationship to arise under family law. First, a common law relationship can legally arise when two people of the opposite sex or same sex have been living together in a conjugal relationship for three continuous years. Secondly, a common law relationship can legally arise when two people of the opposite sex have been living together in an ongoing relationship for any period of time and they have a child together.
Sometimes it may not be clear if two people have been living common law. The law tries to decide whether two people have been living together by looking at whether they cohabit. Incidents of cohabitation will include whether one person was financially supporting the other person, whether they have had a sexual relationship and whether they shared household expenses and child raising duties.
Tax law issues
Under tax law, a common law relationship legally arises when two opposite sex spouses have been living together for 12 months or when two people of the opposite sex have a child together. If you are considered to be a common law spouse under tax law, you will have certain rights and obligations when you are filling out your yearly income tax return. For example, you may be able to claim a dependent spouse credit if you are financially supporting your common law spouse.
Welfare and family benefits issues
If you are considered to be a common law spouse for Welfare and Family Benefits, you must include your common law spouse’s income on your application for benefits. Under the Welfare and Family Benefits rules, a common law relationship legally arises when two people of the opposite sex and same sex live together as a couple for any period of time, however short, and share financial responsibilities. Someone could become your common law spouse on the day they move in with you under these rules.
Employee benefit plan issues
Finally, if you are considered to be a common law spouse under your spouse’s employee benefit plan, you may be entitled to benefits such as prescription medication, life insurance and dental coverage. Employers can make their own rules for when a common law relationship arises. Some employment benefit plans let common law spouses share in the benefit plan if they have been living together for just six months. Others may require that spouses have lived together for one, three or five years. You should check with your personnel department for information on your employee benefit plan.
If you need additional information about how living with someone can affect your legal rights, a lawyer can give you advice based on your individual situation.