“It’s complicated,” indeed.
Contrary to popular belief, how long you live together is not the only factor. The question is complex. And, in Alberta, property legislation treats a common-law partner much differently than a married spouse. So, the difference can be very important for your rights.
The Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act sets these rules for unmarried couples. When a couple’s relationship progresses to an “interdependent” state, the law grants important property rights to both members of the couple.
How financially intertwined are you?
Amongst other considerations, the key milestone for when a couple becomes “interdependent” is when they meet all 3 pre-requisites, for a minimum and uninterrupted period of 3 years (if they have children together or sign an agreement, this time can be shorter):
- They share one another’s lives;
- They are emotionally committed to each other; and,
- They function as an “economic and domestic unit” (which the courts have found means that they must be “financially inter-dependent” on each other).
Those 3 pre-requisites must be established to establish a valid “common law” (interdependent) relationship in the sense required by Alberta’s legislation.
To answer whether the third factor — an “economic and domestic unit” — exists, the question of financial inter-dependence is most important.
If financial inter-dependence exists, the courts then still look for other factors on a case-by-case basis to see if despite the financial aspect, the relationship is an economic and domestic unit:
(a) is it a conjugal relationship?
(b) how exclusive are you?
(c) what are your household and living arrangements?
(d) how much do you show others you’re an economic and domestic unit?
(e) how much did “formalise” intentions and responsibilities to each other?
(f) what contributions did you make to your mutual well-being?
(g) what is the degree of financial dependence or interdependence or financial support between you?
(h) do you share care and support for children?
(i) Do you own or use or acquire property together?
Proving it can get fairly up close and personal
With exception of the financial interdependence pre-requisite, the other factors are largely equally weighted. In practical terms, the courts have looked at a very large list of different activities, to consider of the latter laundry list of factors exists, such as:
- Sharing a family and social life together, such as hosting family get-togethers and shared friends. Do others see them as a couple? (e.g. do others observe: “Oh that’s John and Sue, and I see that couple at the grocery store/family weddings together”)
- Do they live together? Do they enjoy each other’s company?
- Division of labour: who looked after the house and garden and did most of the cooking, or the heavier work.
Being “common law” carries significant consequences for your property and obligations
This status carries with it many enforceable legal rights and obligations. If you are either in an interdependent relationship, or you are nearing that three-year mark, or maybe have a baby on the way, or if you are planning for your family’s financial future through estate planning, we strongly recommend you speak with a knowledgeable lawyer for some important advice.