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Those in healthy, long-term, romantic relationships may find the differences between common-law partnerships and legal marriages insignificant. While there are many similarities between legally recognized marriages and common-law partnerships, the differences can become very important upon the break-down of a relationship. Therefore, from time to time, instances arise whereby each type of relationship can benefit from trustworthy legal advice from Minhas Lawyers.

What are they?

A common-law partnership exists where two individuals have lived together continuously in a conjugal relationship for at least 3 years. If they have a child together (by birth or adoption), then they only need to have been living together for 1 year. A legally recognized marriage, on the other hand, is simply evidenced by a marriage license. However, both partnerships live together and share the responsibilities of a relationship.

This article will consider what happens when either a legal marriage or a common-law partnership breaks down.

Spousal and Child Support, and Custody

When it comes to financial support, whether it is spousal support or child support, there is no difference between being lawfully married and being a common-law spouse. If either a legally recognized marriage or common-law relationship breaks down, child and/or spousal support can still be granted. However, here the only difference is that the Divorce Act, 1985 and Federal Child Support Guidelines are utilized for married couples, and the Family Law Act, 1990 and Ontario Child Support Guidelines are utilized for common-law partnerships. It is important to note that filing a claim for support is the same for both relationships. Similarly, and on the topic of custody, the law recognizes both types of relationships alike as what is important here are the rights and duties parents have towards their children. If eventually the parties decide to split, dependent on court rulings, both individuals will have the opportunity to assert custody.

Division of property

One of the biggest differences between legally recognized marriages and common-law partnerships concern the division of property. There is an endeavor on behalf of the Courts to provide individuals to a marriage with equal benefits by dividing assets and liabilities. Comparatively, the division of property is not set up for instances like common-law partnership and therefore under these circumstances common-law partnerships do not have similar rights to a home. Here, partners to a common-law relationship must make trust agreements whereby a trust claim can be filed regarding the home. This latter process can be time-consuming and expensive.

What about Immigration?

Where immigration policies are concerned, the law does not favour one type of relationship over the other. When seeking sponsorship, both relationships will undergo a rigorous screening process to verify the relationship. Here, the only difference is the level of proof that is requested to verify the relationship.

Married spouses show proof of the relationship by evidencing a marriage certificate, as well as photos taken of at the wedding. While common-law partnerships require more proof, as there is a higher risk of fraudulent applications. Below is a list of accepted documents in which common-law partners are required to present to the IRCC (Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada):

– Bank account statements from a shared account
– Credit card statements showing activity from both partners
– Lease or mortgage/purchase agreement signed by both partners
– Declarations from people who know the relationship to be true and permanent
– Photos of trips, events, messages, emails, gifts, and receipts may also be good evidence of a common-law relationship and may be used as proof.

If you had been in a previous common-law relationship, you will have to prove that relationship is over; evidenced in a severance of common-law relationship declaration.

Should you have any questions regarding the rights and legal obligations of your respective relationship, or if you are thinking of entering a permanent relationship, please feel free to give us a call at Minhas Lawyers where one of our experienced Family Law lawyers will be happy to assist you in your inquiries.

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Minhas Lawyers LLP is a multi-practice law firm based in Mississauga. We advise and represent clients across various segments and practice areas.

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