Common Law Relationships: Spousal Support

Spousal Support may be claimed after a common law relationship has ended, provided the claimant can meet certain criteria.

First, the claimant must establish the relationship was, in fact, a “marriage-like” relationship. The courts have taken the definition of a marriage-like relationship by looking at traditional marriage relationships, even though many formally married couples now live in untraditional relationships.

The issue of whether a relationship is marriage-like is usually determined by the answers to the following questions: was the couple in an exclusive sexual relationship, did they share living expenses, were they jointly registered on title to property or hold joint bank accounts, did one surrender financial independence to become economically dependent on the other, did they refer to each other as husband and wife, did they take joint vacations, did they jointly entertain friends and family. In the words of one judge “In short, did they share their lives?”

Next, the claimant must prove that the marriage-like relationship lasted two or more years. People in shorter-term marriage-like relationships do not qualify for spousal support. Establishing when the marriage-like relationship started and ended can present problems, as many relationships develop over time and some also end slowly.

Third, in order to claim spousal support, a common law spouse must start their court action within one year of the end of the relationship. If they fail to do that, any claim for spousal support is barred.

If the claimant can establish they were in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years and they’ve brought a claim in a court action within one year of the end of that relationship, the claim is then treated the same as a formalized marriage. The issues of whether the claimant is otherwise eligible for spousal support, the calculation of how long support should be paid and how much support should be paid, remain to be determined.

For more information about eligibility, duration and the amount of spousal support to be paid see the articles Spousal Support and Calculation of Spousal Support.

This article is for general information only, and should not be relied on as legal advice in any particular case. Consult a lawyer for advice on your case.