Common Law Relationships

Common Law Relationships

British Columbia was one of the first provinces in the country to recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. As such, British Columbia’s family laws include provisions for common law separation for people who live together but are not officially married, which has become increasingly more common. Here are some of the questions (and answers) our lawyers hear regarding common law separation.

What Does “Common Law” Actually Mean?

In March 2013, BC's Legislature updated the Family Law Act and expanded the definition/role of a common law relationship. Essentially, it means that people who live in a "marriage-like" relationship for at least two years will be considered spouses in terms of property and, in some cases, spousal support.

The law isn't clear on the exact parameters of what “marriage-like means.” In some ways, this benefits couples because it allows for flexibility, since every couple's relationship will be different. In other ways, however, this can cause confusion after a common law separation. In some cases, expensive legal battles over the division or inheritance of property and assets. 

Generally speaking, the Court looks at the following when determining whether people live in a marriage-like relationship:

These aren't the only factors the Court may consider following a common law separation, but they can give you a good guideline for how it might view your relationship if you ever end up in a familial dispute.

What Happens If My Common Law Relationship Ends?

If you split up, the law expects you to divide family assets (and any appreciation on excluded assets) fairly after your common law separation, just like married couples who divorce. You may also qualify for spousal support if you make a claim within a certain time frame, and you could seek inheritance if your partner dies without a will or clear estate plan.

What you can do to protect separate assets and property after a common law separation depends in part on your current circumstances:

Remember that an effective family agreement of any kind involves input from both parties. If the Court finds that the agreement skews more to one side or that a partner was pressured to sign it under duress, it can set aside the agreement. Know your rights before you sign! 

Get Your Questions Answered

We are happy to help you understand the legal ramifications of a common law separation or a common law divorce. Westside Family Law has represented Vancouver families of all kinds for decades, and we know each common law separation requires a unique approach. Call us at 604-734-7911 or schedule an appointment through the form below to get your questions about common law relationships answered.