What Defines Common-Law Relationships in Each Province and Territory
The Canadian federal government has its own definition of common-law relationships for tax purposes: a couple that has cohabited for at least one year and has combined assets and established a household in one dwelling.
However, each province and territory has different guidelines for provincial or territorial programs, and some will even vary depending on the program (pensions, insurance, estate law, etc).
When putting together your estate plan it’s important to understand how your relationship is viewed by your provincial or territorial government. Failure to take this into account could result in your partner not inheriting the assets that are rightfully theirs.
Below are the common-law relationship criteria for each province or territory. Make sure to double-check that this criteria is applicable for your program of interest.
You are considered ‘Adult interdependent partners’ (common-law partners) if you have made a formal and valid Adult Interdependent Partner agreement, are 2 people who live together in a relationship of interdependence for a continuous period of 3 years, or if you have lived together with some permanence and have a child.
You must have lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship for at least two consecutive years, or if you are seeking spousal support for less than two years and have a child together.
You are common-law partners if you have registered your relationship at the Vital Statistics Agency, if you have lived together for three years, or one year and have a child together.
The amount of time you must live together to be considered common law partners varies in New Brunswick depending on the program (income tax, insurance, pension, etc), however no matter how long they have been cohabiting common-law partners do not have a right to marital property if they split.
Two people are considered to be in a common-law relationship when they live together in a conjugal relationship for two consecutive years. Common-law couples have no specific rights under Newfoundland’s Intestate Succession Act but they can sign a cohabitation agreement.
For tax purposes, you are considered common-law if you are in a conjugal relationship and have been living together for at least 12 consecutive months, or have a child together.
You are considered ‘spouses’ in Nova Scotia if you have lived in a marriage-like relationship continuously for at least two years, or have lived in a marriage-like relationship for any period of time and have a child together. However this time period can vary depending on the program and issue being addressed.
You are common-law partners in Nunavut if you have lived together in a conjugal relationship for 12 continuous months or if you have a child together by birth or adoption.
You are considered spouses in Ontario if you are in a conjugal relationship and have lived together for at least three consecutive years, or if you have a relationship of permanence, live together for any period of time, and have a child together.
You are considered ‘spouses’ in PEI if you have lived together and participated in a conjugal relationship for three continuous years, or for any amount of time and have a child together.
For the Québec Pension Plan, you are considered common law after living together for three years or one year if you have a child together. The time period will vary depending on the program; you can check the various definitions of common-law in Québec here. However in Québec unless you’re legally married your spouse will be entitled to nothing when you pass away.
Under the Family Property Act you are considered spouses if you have cohabitation with each other continuously for at least 2 years.
You are common-law partners if you live together for 1 year or share a child together, and will continue to be in a common law relationship unless you live apart for more than 90 days, which is considered a common law separation in Yukon.
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Last updated September 2022