The Million Dollar Question: Do Common Law and Married Couples Have the Same Rights?

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Clients are often surprised to hear that common law and married spouses do not have the same rights and obligations on relationship breakdown. Although both married and unmarried spouses can make a claim for spousal support, this is not the case with respect to property division. Under the Ontario Family Law Act, only married spouses are entitled to an equalization of net family property on marital breakdown. Essentially, and subject to some exceptions, this entails that the parties share in the growth of one another’s net worth from the date of marriage to the date of separation. Accordingly, where marital assets are held in the name of one spouse alone, the other spouse is entitled to share in those assets. This is not the case for common law spouses, as they are considered separate as to property, and they do not have any automatic right to share in their spouse’s property, even where they have contributed financially. Despite this, there are ways to protect yourself as a common law spouse, and both married and unmarried spouses can govern how property will be divided upon separation by way of domestic contract.

Whether you’re getting married, moving in with your partner, or separating, arrange a complimentary consultation with us to discuss how to protect your rights.