Rights and Obligations of Common-Law Spouses

Clients often consult with us on whether being in a common-law relationship for a certain length of time means that they have the same rights and obligations as married persons. This is a common misconception as, in fact, particularly when it comes to property, there can be significant differences in the way the law applies to married people and the way it applies to common-law partners. For example, the Marital Property Act in New Brunswick governs the division of property between married persons but it does not apply to common-law spouses, no matter how long they cohabitate.

A common-law spouse who is seeking an interest in property held by the other spouse when their relationship breaks down must demonstrate that the other spouse has been unjustly enriched. He or she must prove they contributed to the acquisition, maintenance, or improvement of the respective property in some manner. The contribution might be financial or might be by way of contributions made toward the upkeep of the parties’ home or childcare.

Differing levels of contribution will therefore result in a different level of entitlement to a share in the property that is in the name of the other party. Some of the factors that will be considered include the length of the relationship and the roles that the parties’ assumed during the relationship. The final conclusion with regards to entitlement will therefore vary in each case.

Our family law lawyers can help you at the beginning of your common-law relationship to create a document to pre-determine ownership upon the breakdown of the relationship. We can also assist in determining the rights and obligations specific to your situation upon the breakdown of your common-law relationship.