Common Law Relationships

Common-law partnerships (i.e., unmarried cohabitation with an intimate partner) have specialized laws that are different than those applying to marriages.

 

This is one of the most misunderstood areas in family law. Contrary to popular belief, in Alberta there are no automatic rights to sharing property or debt on the breakdown of a common law relationship (unless the law changes at some point).

 

The property sharing law that does apply to unmarried cohabitation is known as “Unjust Enrichment”. It is technical and highly dependent on the unique circumstances of each case. In some cases assets and debts are divided approximately equally; in others, they are not divided at all and in even more cases, the result is somewhere in the middle of that range.

 

When these types of relationships break down parties can create a legally binding agreement on the division of assets and debts with a contract that is reviewed and witnessed by a lawyer that suits their own sense of what is right and fair. The key to making it as legally binding as possible is that each party has been advised of their rights in their particular circumstances so that their decisions are informed. Without legal advice their agreements can be ignored by the courts.

 

At the beginning of relationships, many couples, due to the uncertainty around how the law in this area will apply to them in the future, choose to enter into a “Cohabitation Agreement”. It is a “pre-nup” with no marriage. With legal advice it can be binding and can take the uncertainty out of the prospect of relationship breakdown or the death of a partner.

 

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