In British Columbia, many people choose to live together without getting married. However, many people tend to be unaware of the life-changing financial repercussions that may arise from cohabitation. While there is no legal recognition of “common law” marriage in BC, the law does recognize “marriage-like relationships”. In this blog post, we will explain what a marriage-like relationship is and what legal implications it can have.
What is a Marriage-Like Relationship?
A marriage-like relationship is a relationship between two people who are not married but who have lived together in a “marriage-like” way for at least two years.
To determine whether a relationship is marriage-like, the court will look at several factors, including:
- The parties’ intentions;
- The parties’ expectations – particularly the expectation that the relationship will be of lengthy, indeterminate duration;
- The actual duration of the relationship;
- The nature and extent of common residence;
- Whether or not the couple has children;
- The degree to which the couple has integrated their finances;
- The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
- The care and support of children;
- The performance of household tasks; and
- The attitude and conduct of the parties towards each other.
The characterization of whether a relationship is marriage-like is contextual. This means, the court will look at both objective evidence and the parties’ subjective circumstances in making the determination. As a result, the concept is elastic, and often difficult to define. None of the factors above are determinative in and of themselves, and the list is not exhaustive.
In Armstrong v. Scholz, 2022 BCSC 863, the parties’ differing expectations concerning sexual exclusivity contributed to the finding that a marriage-like relationship did not exist. The case of J.M. v. S.T., 2022 BCSC 1210 suggests that where one party treats the relationship as serious, long-lasting, and committed, and the other does not, the court may find that the common intention to form a marriage-like relationship does not exist, and therefore the relationship is not marriage-like.
Legal Implications of Marriage-Like Relationships
If a marriage-like relationship ends, the parties may be entitled to property division, spousal support, and child support. In British Columbia, the same rules that apply to married couples also apply to couples in marriage-like relationships. For example, property and debt acquired during the relationship is presumptively divided equally between the parties, unless it would be significantly unfair to do so, or there is a valid agreement stating otherwise. Similarly, one partner may be entitled to spousal support if they are financially dependent on the other partner. Or, one party may be entitled to spousal support to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the party arising from the relationship between the spouses or the breakdown of the relationship.
Child support is also an issue that may arise when a marriage-like relationship ends. Both parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children, regardless of whether they were married or in a marriage-like relationship. Child support is typically calculated based on the income of the paying parent and the number of children who need support.
The definition of what constitutes a marriage-like relationship is murky and subject to complex questions of fact and law. If you are ending what might be a marriage-like relationship, contact any member of our family law team who can help you understand your rights and obligations and guide you through the legal process
This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing