Ontario recognizes common law relationships as a valid form of union between two people. Common law relationships are legally recognized in Ontario and can bring many of the same rights and responsibilities that married couples enjoy.
However, there are important differences between common law and traditional marriages.
In this post, we will explain how common-law marriage works in Ontario, what the differences are between them and actual marriages, and the legal implications for those who choose to enter into a common-law relationship in Ontario.
Are you “Common-Law”?
So how does it work? When is your relationship classified as “common law” in Ontario?
The answer comes down to time. If two people have been living together for at least three years, or if they are in a relationship of some permanence and have had a child together, then the law recognizes them as a common-law couple.
Common law is not legally recognized until the relationship has lasted for three years; so couples who live together for less than three years are not considered legal as a couple under the law.
What Are The Differences Between Common-Law And Actual Marriage?
The main difference between common-law and actual marriage is that, in Ontario, common-law relationships have fewer rights and responsibilities than those of an actual marriage.
Common law marriage and formal legal marriages differ based on several aspects:
• Tax filing status
• Property division laws
• Rights to spousal support payments
• Inheritance rules
• Survivor benefits
• The divorce process
Common Law Tax Filing Status
There are pros and cons to having a common law tax status. The advantages from a tax perspective to being common law are that partners do not need to file joint tax returns, and can claim more deductions than they otherwise would if they were married.
On the other hand, because common law couples are not technically considered “married” by the government, they cannot take advantage of certain benefits that married couples can. Common-law couples are not eligible for spousal credits or other benefits that come with filing jointly, such as the Child Tax Credit.
Property Division Laws
Another key difference between actual marriage and common law marriage is the way property is divided upon separation. In Ontario, married couples are subject to equalization payments when they divorce; this means both partners will share equally in any assets acquired during the course of their marriage. However common law couples do not have this same automatic protection and must establish any interest in property.
Rights To Spousal Support Payments
In the event of a separation or divorce, common law couples are not entitled to spousal support payments like married couples may be. Common law couples must take steps to protect their rights and interests if they wish to receive any type of payment from the other party.
Inheritance rules work differently for common law relationships in that the rights to inherit property are not established by law, unlike those of married couples. Common law partners must take steps to ensure their respective interests in the event of death or incapacity of either partner.
Common law spouses cannot rely on survivor benefits from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) like a legally married spouse would be able to do.
The Divorce Process
Finally, the divorce process for common law couples differs from that of married couples. The process can be more complex due to the lack of legal recognition, as there are no laws in place to protect either partner. Each partner is responsible for protecting their interests and rights in this situation. In fact, there is no formal “divorce” in common law relationships and there is no formal decry of the relationship to dissolve.
In summary, there are advantages and disadvantages to both common law and formal marriage. Knowing which one works for you will come down to having a clear understanding of how the law works in Ontario. It is important to note that, while common law relationships are recognized by the law, they do not have all of the legal implications or rights as a formal marriage. If you need more information or advice on this matter, it is advisable to speak to a family lawyer who can provide further guidance.
This blog is made available by the law firm publisher, Epstein & Associates, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. Any specific questions about your legal concerns please contact us now and speak to an expert today.