A common law relationship is one where partners live together but are not legally married to one another for a specific period of time. If this partnership should come to an end, couples who live together in common law relationships have many, but not all, of the same legal rights as married partners.
The laws that determine the amount of time common-law partners must live together in order for various legal procedures to be applicable vary by region. The legal scenario for common-law partners who have been living together for several years is much different than for partners who established their relationship very recently.
There are agreements that can be entered in order to give the relationship more legal stability. One such agreement that common law partners may opt to sign is a Cohabitation Agreement. This legal document outlines many of the responsibilities that each partner has should the relationship come to an end and can effectively be used as a way for each partner to protect themselves.
Note that common-law relationships do not require a divorce. The relationship is considered terminated once the partners decide to separate and stop living together. With that said, there may be some ongoing legal responsibilities.
Child support, child custody and spousal support in common-law relationships is handled in the same way as a marriage. It may be the case that one partner is required to financially support the other or to financially support any children involved. The court may be required to intervene in these situations to determine the best course of action.
One of the biggest differences between common-law relationships and marriage is that common-law spouses do not automatically have a right to the property that was acquired over the course of the relationship. Whoever owns the property retains full ownership. On a similar note, another difference between common-law relationships and marriages is that common-law partners do not have an equal right to live in the family home.
Clearly, cases involving long-term common-law relationships can become complex when both spouses have contributed significantly towards property that is legally owned by only one. In fact, there is significant case law that deals with these circumstances and in fact, establish rights of the non-owner parties. Having said that, these kinds of complex situations typically require legal intervention, where both parties may acquire legal representation to present their case in a court of law. Ultimately, the longer the duration of a common-law relationship, the greater the exposure to property division.
The key difference between married and common law couples in this regard is that in the former there is an automatic entitlement, and in the latter, the party needs to introduce evidence of their contribution in order to make any claim to the property.
In all cases regarding common law relationships, it is a good idea to be proactive. Take the time to visit a lawyer who can draft a Cohabitation Agreement, or give you necessary advice on how to best protect yourself and your common law partner. Crafting a solid plan using all of your legal options is always preferable to being caught by surprise.
If you need more help, contact the professionals at Epstein & Associates for valuable legal assistance.