Common Law Marriages: What Are My Property Rights?

Common Law

It’s important first to define what a common law marriage is. A common law marriage is when people live together as a couple but are not legally married. When a common law relationship dissolves, the division of debts and property can become a point of contention and is not treated the same as its matrimonial counterpart. Case in point, when married couples separate the Matrimonial Property Act is used. However, when common law couples separate, the Unjust Enrichment or Joint Family Venture principles are applied.

Let’s shine some light on some of Alberta’s common law property principles:

  1. The common law relationship for Unjust Enrichment is a test that analyzes both partners asset-by-asset. This test attempts to prove that you contributed to each specific property and that there is no reason that you shouldn’t receive a portion of the partner’s property due to your contributions. Those contributions may be through cash or in the form of labor.
  2. Joint Family Venture is a test that involves you proving that all your assets are grouped together because you and your partner were marriage-like throughout your relationship. This can be established in one of four ways, economic integration, actual intent, priority of the family unit, or mutual effort of the common law couple.
  3. Common law property is not divided equally because there is no presumption of equal sharing of assets that were accumulated during the common law relationship.
  4. You only have two years for the date of separation to claim against your partner’s assets.
  5. Right now, Alberta doesn’t have legislation governing the division of common law property. This means the division is highly dependent on the facts of each case, and become difficult to predict how a court will divide the property. Current laws regarding this are not legislated by the government but are instead a set of laws stemming from previous court decisions.

Recently, Alberta has aimed to modernize legislation on common law partners by giving increased support to unmarried couples. While the Family Statutes Amendment Act hasn’t been passed just yet, it would make it easier for unmarried partners to divide their property should the relationship dissolve. The legislation would extend property division rules in the Matrimonial Property Act to qualified unmarried couples. These couples need to qualify as “adult interdependent” partners, or common law under Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Relationship Act. This means that any property that was acquired during the relationship is divided equally if that relationship ends.

Couples can also have legally bound agreements of their own for property division. If this legislation passes, changes to property division could start at the beginning of 2020, which also gives time to inform the public. The legislation would also allow applications for child support for adult children with disabilities or illnesses.

For more information about how to protect yourself, your family, and your property in a common law relationship, give our lawyers a call at 587-410-2500. Our team has decades of experience helping individuals through the dissolution of matrimonial and common law relationships.

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