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Know Your Rights in Common-Law Relationships

Serving clients throughout British Columbia, Lowther Family Law can help you understand the recent changes to the law concerning common-law relationships. You can learn more about the topic on this page, but if you have specific concerns or questions we hope you'll contact us today.


When two people (either of different sexes or the same sex) live together without being legally married, they may acquire rights and responsibilities with respect to division of property, support and custody and access.


Regarding custody of and access to a child born in a common-law relationship, there is no substantial difference between the law relating to married and non-married couples; see Child Custody & Access for more information.


With respect to child support, there is also no substantial difference between the law relating to married and non-married couples; see Child Support Laws for more information.


If upon separation of a non-married couple one spouse is dependent upon another, the court may require spousal support to be paid, but only if the spouses had lived together as husband and wife for a period of at least 2 years, and the application to court is made within one year of the spouses ceasing to live together. There may be exceptions to this deadline and it is advisable to seek qualified legal advice if you are seeking support.


Once an entitlement to spousal support is established, the principles governing support are substantially the same as those for married persons; see Spousal Support.


With respect to division of property, a non-married couple is treated very differently from a married couple. There is no presumption of an equal division of family property, as there is with a married couple; see Division of Property for more information. Although recent amendments to the new Family Law Act of BC (FLA) now allow non-married couples to "opt-in" to the division of property provisions of the new Family Law Act of BC (FLA), in the absence of such opting-in, there is no clear law governing the division of property between unmarried persons on a separation.


In particular, there is no 6 month or 2 year period after which non-married persons are entitled to an interest in each other’s property (a popular misconception).


Instead, there is "judge-made" law which provides that where in a non-married relationship one person has benefitted from or been enriched by the efforts of the other during the relationship, and that other person has made some sacrifice or suffered some deprivation as a result of such efforts, the court may conclude that it would be unfair for the other person not to be compensated for such efforts. The compensation may be by way of a share of property or monetary compensation.


Note: The information provided above is general information only and is provided as a public service. For detailed information and advice with respect to your specific circumstances, please contact our office for an appointment.

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