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The Journey Project


Common Law Relationships

People often refer to common law relationships where two people have formed a marriage-like relationship and lived together for a certain amount of time. However, in Newfoundland and Labrador, common law relationships do not exist as a legal relationship. This means that common law couples do not have the same rights as married couples. Sometimes, common law couples may have rights or obligations under federal laws, such as federal income tax, pension plans, or other federal programs.

A couple will not automatically become legally married or legally common law after a certain amount of time. Provincial and federal laws often recognize a common law partner at different times. It is important to research whether or not you and your partner can become common law partners according to a provincial or federal law, or a provincial, federal, or private plan or program.

Common Law Relationship Rights

Common law couples have some of the same rights as couples who are legally married, but these rights are not always the same and they are not as well defined as rights which flow from marriage. For Example: a common law spouse is not automatically entitled to half ownership of the home when the relationship breaks down (if the house is only in one spouse’s name). It is very important to consult a lawyer to learn your rights in your common law relationship.

It is not illegal to be in a common law relationship if either partner is married to someone else. However, the married person may still have some legal rights and obligations to their ex-spouse until they have legally divorced. There may be issues of child custody, child and spousal support and division of property. These topics will be addressed separately below. These situations may be complex. It is suggested that legal advice be sought in such circumstances.

Child Support In Common Law Relationships

All parents are required to support their children, regardless of the parents’ marital status. Child Support Guidelines are used to determine the amount of child support to be paid. A common law spouse who is not the biological parent of a child might still be required to pay child support if the court finds that they “stood in place of the parent” or acted as a parent to the child. For more information on child support, please see page 43 of this guide.

Spousal or Partner Support When Common Law Couples Separate

Requests for spousal support are sometimes made following the breakdown of common law relationships. Parties are sometimes able to agree to spousal support, including how much, how often, and how long support will be.

In cases where an agreement cannot be reached, an application for spousal support can be made to court. This application can only be made when the parties have lived in common law for at least two years. As well, there are factors that determine whether someone is qualified to make a spousal support application. This includes the intention of the parties and their relationship, among other considerations. Lastly, there are time limits for filing an application for spousal support.

It is strongly suggested that a person speak with a family law lawyer if they are considering filing such an application. There are many considerations for a judge when deciding whether or not to grant spousal support. For more information on spousal support, please see page 46 of this guide.

If your common law partner dies without leaving a will, their assets will not automatically pass to you. It does not matter how long you have been living together, how long you were in a relationship, or otherwise. If there is no will, the deceased person’s estate will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act. This may mean that your partner’s assets will be given to their family members only. This Act can be found online here:

To ensure that a common law partner inherits all or a portion of the deceased partner’s estate, it should be stated in a will.

Dividing property after separation is different between a common law couple and a legally married couple. The Family Law Act, which divides marital assets equally between two married spouses, does not apply to a common law relationship, unless the couple agrees that it will apply. For example, if a couple is married, the matrimonial home, no matter whose name it is in, is owned equally by both spouses, unless the spouses have agreed otherwise. This is not the same for common law couples who share a home unless they have agreed otherwise.

The Family Law Act can be found online here:

Family Law