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 often called common law partners.

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!

Even though the process might be different common-law partners still face many of the same issues, need the same support and struggle with some of the same issues. We dig into how common-law partners can get through the process and make it out.


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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 a common-law spouse 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 is a common-law partner is basically considered married by their peers and community.

It is important to know that recently Canada has changed the title of common-law relationships and they are now called adult interdependent relationships. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act sets out factors to consider when determining whether 2 people function as an economic and domestic unit. They include the exclusivity of the relationship and how they behave when it comes to household activities and living arrangements. These fall under family law

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

If a couple (or common-law partners) have 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. Family law deals with the legal issues that come up when family relationships begin and end. Marriage, separation, divorce, parenting, support, dividing property, adoption, and family violence — all fall within this area of law.

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! 

It is important to know that when children are involved the Family Law Act will put the safety and interests of the children first. It encourages each common-law spouse to resolve their disputes out-of-court.

How to End a Common Law Relationship In Canada

How to end a common-law partnership or how to end a common-law relationship 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”

Let’s Talk About Kids

I have a course designed to help parents not only navigate how to tell your kids your getting a divorce but also how to support and guide them emotionally. It is very similar for common law partners, especially if you have been together for a while.

When it comes to Alberta family law, a couple is considered common law, or in an Adult Interdependent Relationship if one of the following applies to them: They have lived together in a relationship of interdependence for at least three years. They have lived together with some degree of permanence and have a child together.

When common-law parents stop living together, they don’t have to get a divorce, because there is no marriage to end.

Common law couples or adult interdependent relationships will still have a common law separation or relationship split. They do need to decide what will happen to their kids and how they will divide their property.

The laws about custody and access are the same for married couples as they are for common-law couples. Parents need to decide on living arrangements for the kids and to decide on visitation rights so that both parents have the opportunity to spend time with the kids.

Are There Parenting Arrangements?

When parents cannot agree on how to manage the care of their children after their relationship ends, a Family Justice (family law) can issue a Parenting Order. This order will specify the children’s living arrangements, how much time they will spend with each parent, who will make critical decisions for the children’s welfare, and how future disagreements over these arrangements will be resolved.

If an adult, like a step-parent or grandparent, who isn’t the child’s legal guardian wants to maintain contact with the child, they can request a Contact Order from the Provincial Court. This order allows for interaction through in-person visits, phone calls, emails, or social media, but does not grant the applicant any authority over decisions concerning the child.

For information on the laws and resources available for parenting issues, please refer to Family Law Legislation and Resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

What about Spousal Support?

A partner who was either in a common-law relationship for at least three years or has a child (biological or adopted) with their ex-partner might have to pay or could receive spousal support from their ex. In Alberta, this support is referred to as Adult Interdependent Partner Support and it is part of family law since 2020.

Simply having a child together does not automatically qualify someone for adult interdependent partner support. The parent seeking support needs to prove that there was a significant interdependent relationship.

A Family Justice can mandate spousal support for a married individual who is not pursuing a divorce.

Unless there’s an agreement between the parents or a court decision, the Maintenance Enforcement Program handles the collection and enforcement of adult interdependent partner support payments.

For information on applicable laws and resources for spousal support claims, one should consult Family Law Legislation and Resources.

What About Child Support?

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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