How to End a Common Law Relationship Canada

How To End A Common Law Relationship Canada - Heidi Dinning

How to End a Common Law Relationship Canada

Ending a relationship is never easy, emotionally, and it can get even more complicated when it is a long relationship where a couple has cohabitated and built a life together.

With a marriage, your separation and divorce must be filed within the courts in your jurisdiction in order to be made official.

However, if you were in a common-law relationship, it is a modified process. Read on to learn more about what a common-law relationship is, as well as the steps to take if you need to dissolve your common-law relationship in Canada!


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Heidi Dinning is a CDC® Certified Divorce Coach. Her services are designed to give people navigating separation, divorce and family breakdowns help and guidance. If you are going through a situation and need assistance please contact us.

end a common law relationship

What Is a Common Law Relationship?

First things first, what is a common law marriage or common law relationship? Essentially, this type of relationship is a partnership where two people have not gotten a marriage license or have not performed a formal wedding ceremony.

However, they still live together and have done so for an extended period of time.

The period of time for a couple to be legally considered common law married can differ, depending upon their location.

A couple that are common law partners are basically considered married by their peers and community.

How Long Do You Have to Live Together In Canada to be In a Common Law Relationship?

If a couple has lived together for one year in Canada, then you can be considered to be in a common-law relationship. This is a general, blanket estimate across the country of Canada.

However, different provinces have different rules or timelines to be considered a common-law relationship.

These are typically longer than the national average of one year. Due to this, it is important to look into one’s own location or area to ensure that their relationship would be considered common law in the first place! 

How to End a Common Law Relationship In Canada

As we have mentioned previously, ending a common law partnership is not the same as ending a marriage and getting a divorce.

Generally, there is no cut-and-dry for common law partners to end their relationship, so it is recommended that you consult a lawyer or notary–even if you will not be taking the split to court, which is often not required of these relationships.

When a couple is not legally married, they do not have the same protections in regard to property that they have acquired together, for instance.

If you are pursuing a common law separation, one of the things to consider is the home you share. The person whose name is on the lease or mortgage ultimately has the rights to the property.

Unless both names are on it, the rights to the home are not equal. Similarly, any other assets are not necessarily split equally when you end a common law relationship.

Typically, each partner will leave the relationship with their own assets and debts that they brought into the relationship. Some exceptions can include if the couple started a business together–they will usually be entitled to share equally in the profits of that business still. 

To make sure that everything is understood and spelled out clearly for a common-law marriage, some recommend that a couple enters into a signed cohabitation agreement.

This is a binding and legal document that clearly lays out the obligations in a common law relationship. If the relationship were dissolved, later on, a cohabitation agreement can help and almost serve as a blueprint when dealing with the aftermath and logistics of such a split. They can help to protect the rights of both partners in the relationship. 

Common-Law Partners and Each Province

In Canada, both the federal and provincial governments play a role in family law. The federal government oversees marriage and divorce as far as the Divorce Act is concerned, but the implementation of certain processes for getting a divorce vary by province and territory.

When it comes to Common-law Marriage situations (which is an American idea) we call them cohabitants or common-law spouses in Canada. The qualification for this designation will vary depending on the province and the context.

When there are children involved (especially when it comes to child support) typically those couples fall into a common-law category in all provinces. In Ontario, for example, if you don’t have children and have been living together for more than three years you are considered common law.

Depending on the province that you live in it is VERY important to seek out legal counsel and get the proper information when it comes to common-law situations. This includes child support and spousal support issues.

How To End A Common Law Relationship Canada - Heidi Dinning- Heidi Dinning

Common-Law in Alberta

How is a common-law relationship defined in Alberta law?

The term ‘common law’ is often used to describe a couple that lives together, with or without children, but is not married. The term ‘common law‘ is no longer used in Alberta laws.

In June 2003, a law was passed that created ‘adult interdependent relationships.

What is an Adult Interdependent Relationship?

An adult interdependent relationship can exist in three situations:

  1. Two people have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement. (If two people are related by blood or adoption, they must sign this agreement to be considered adult interdependent partners.)
  2. Two people have lived together in a relationship of interdependence for three years or more.
  3. Two people live together in a relationship of interdependence and have a child together, by birth or adoption.

A “relationship of interdependence” exists where two people:

  • share one another’s lives; and
  • are emotionally committed to one another; and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.

An adult interdependent relationship does not have to be conjugal (sexual); it can be platonic (between friends or relatives).

How does one end an Interdependent Relationship In Alberta?

An adult interdependent relationship ends if:

  • you and your partner make a written agreement stating that the relationship is over, that you intend to live separately and apart, and that there is no possibility of reconciliation. You can make this type of agreement even if you did not make an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement; or
  • you and your partner live separate and apart for one year, and one or both of you intends that the relationship is over; or
  • you marry each other, or one of you marries someone else; or
  • you or your partner enter into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone else (this applies where you are in an adult interdependent relationship but have not signed an Adult Interdependent Agreement); or
  • one or both of you get a declaration of irreconcilability under the Family Law Act.

Once the adult interdependent relationship ends, you become “former adult interdependent partners”

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you break up with your common-law partner?

A common law relationship can be a bit more difficult to deal with in the event of a split, as there is not the same procedure to deal with it as with divorce after marriage. The court decision is not needed as it would be for a divorce. However, it can be a good idea to enlist the assistance of an attorney or notary anyway! Typically, each partner is entitled to their own legal assets and debts, unless they have deliberately combined their assets. 

Can I kick out my common law partner?

Whether or not you can kick out a common-law partner from a shared home is a bit complicated. Generally, the answer to this question is no. However, technically, unless there is a court order forbidding it, it can be done.

If you are in a common law marriage and are concerned about the fallout of your breakup–and need to kick out your partner–this is something that can be discussed with your lawyer or attorney to make sure that you do everything above board.

They should be able to answer any questions that you have.

How long is a common law relationship in Canada?

The length of time that constitutes the beginning of a common law marriage or relationship in Canada can vary, depending upon the location or the province in which a couple is located.

The general rule of thumb across all of Canada is that a couple must have been living together for at least one year to be considered common law.

This is the timeline that the federal government goes by. The province in which you live may have a different timeline, then, so it is always crucial that you do your research!

Can a common law spouse take half?

If you are in this type of relationship, a split with your common law spouse is not always as cut and dry as it is when being legally married and divorced. This is something that a lawyer or attorney can help figure out, but it can depend based on the individual circumstances. You can also check the family law act.

For example, if one partner contributed to a property owned by the other partner, they may be able to get part of this back. In this case this common law separation may need to be settled in court if one partner does not want to pay the other back.

Depending on your situation you may also have to cross certain bridges like, do I have to pay child support? What happens to our family home? What happens to our other property? You will definitely want to seek legal counsel when it comes to these items.

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