Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship lawyers help our family law clients seek child parenting time, child support, spousal support, and property division. New BC family law legislation now treats Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationships the same as married relationships if certain conditions are met. Sophie Bartholomew, Vancouver family law associate, explains what the court looks at to decide if you are in a Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship and what your rights and obligations are if you are in one. She also discusses how parties can enter into cohabitation agreements to govern their relationship and what happens if they break up.
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Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship– Am I in one, what are my rights and obligations, and how do I protect myself?
In some jurisdictions like England and Wales, unmarried couples have no protections under Family Law and have to rely on the civil law to deal with relationship breakdowns. In British Columbia and Canada, however, couples often classify themselves as being in common-law relationships; but what does that actually mean? In this blog I will explain legally;
- when you are considered to be in a common-law relationship;
- what your rights and obligations are if you are in a common-law relationship; and
- what can you do to protect your interests in the event your common-law relationship breaks down in the future.
Am I in a Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship?
Legally after the introduction of the Family Law Act in 2013, you are in a common-law relationship if you have; lived together in a marriage-like relationship for more than 2 years, or have lived together for less than two years but have a child together.
This issue however always becomes, what is a marriage-like relationship? Some people think that simply being in a monogamous relationship fits the bill. Legally, however, some characteristics suggest you are in a marriage-like relationship which are considered by the Courts, such as:
- whether you live together under the same roof;
- whether you have a physical relationship together;
- whether your family and friends consider you to be in a relationship;
- whether you have joint finances or deal with your finances together; and
- whether you own property jointly.
The above list is not exhaustive but emphasizes that more than simply being in a relationship is required to be considered in a common-law relationship. If you are not sure whether you would be considered to be in a Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship then make an appointment to see me, Sophie Bartholomew, or one of our other Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship lawyers at MacLean Law.
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I am in a Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship– What Are My Rights and Obligations?
If you are in a Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship, then under the Family Law Act you have the same rights and obligations as married couples. Of course, you are not required to actually file for divorce, however, you may have rights and obligations concerning guardianship, parenting, spousal support, child support and division of property. More specifically:
- Property Division – The starting point for property division is that each party is entitled to and responsible for 50% of the family assets and debts. This is subject to either party claiming that they have an excluded asset. For example, if one of you owned the asset before being in a common-law relationship. Even in that circumstance, the increase in the value of the asset is capable of being divided between you. If a debt has been used for family purposes, then even if it is in the other common-law spouse’s name then you are still responsible for 50%.
- Parenting – the presumption is generally that parenting time is shared equally unless there is a reason to suggest that one parent is not fit to care of the child or it would be in the best interest of the child to be with one parent more than the other. This can be a complex and intimidating area, after all, what is more, important than your children – so make sure you get legal advice if you have any concerns about parenting arrangements.
- Child Support – If you have a child that lives with you or lives with you or that you share parenting time with your common-law spouse then you could be entitled to Child Support to ensure that the child or children’s needs are being met. If the child lives predominantly with the other common-law spouse, then you may have to pay child support. We can help you assess what the correct level of child support should be in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines. NOTE: if you are a step-parent you may be obligated to pay child support for your step-child with an ex-spouse under certain circumstances. Please seek legal advice if you want to find out more about these circumstances.
- Spousal Support – If you can show that you made sacrifices within the common-law relationship (for example you took the time off work to raise children), or simply that you are unable to meet your reasonable expenses as you earn less than your common-law spouse, then you may be entitled to spousal support. We can help you assess whether you are entitled to support and if so, how much spousal support you can expect and for how long, following the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines.
What can I do to protect my interests if my Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship breaks down in the future?
There are mechanisms in place to try and limit the impact of any potential breakdown of the common-law relationship in the future by defining your expectations from the outset. This is often addressed by preparing a Cohabitation Agreement.
Cohabitation Agreements are appropriate for anyone who intends to remain in a common-law relationship and even those who may get married sometime in the future, as this can be factored in.
These agreements can cover many areas of your relationship together; both during the relationship and upon a potential breakdown. For example, it can deal with who will pay for certain expenses whilst cohabiting, or what any potential children’s last names will be. It can also determine upon breakdown what property remains personal property when assets become family property and whether a party will be entitled to spousal support, and if so the extent. These are simply examples of what can be included and you should meet with one of our Common Law Relationship Lawyers to ensure all aspects important to you are considered and addressed.
It is important that at an early stage there is full disclosure of all assets and liabilities of both parties so that a cohabitation agreement can be entered into on a fully informed basis. Further, both parties will have to have independent legal advice on the terms of the cohabitation agreement or waive their right to do so. This also minimizes any challenges to a cohabitation agreement upon the breakdown of the relationship. After all, the whole reason people enter into a cohabitation agreement is for some certainty for both parties!
Top Vancouver Family Lawyers Can Help
If you would like to discuss or prepare a cohabitation agreement then please make an appointment to see Sophie Bartholomew or our other Vancouver Common Law Marriage Like Relationship lawyers, who would be pleased to advise you further. For more information on common law, relationships read this extract.