These days, almost every couple lives together for a period of time before they get married, and more and more couples are deciding to never get married at all. We get a lot of questions about common-law status, such as how long does it take to become "common-law", what does it mean, and do we have the same legal rights and obligations as married people?
The purpose of this article is to explore the first piece of the puzzle: in New Brunswick, how long does it take to become common-law?
In New Brunswick family law, the short answer is: three years. But there's more to it.
First of all, you don't become common-law with someone just by living with them for three years. You need to be in a relationship with that person that looks something like marriage. So don't worry – you aren't going to be considered common-law with your roommate, no matter how long you live together.
What, exactly, do you need to prove besides living together for three years? This depends on the reason you're trying to prove your common-law status in the first place. Generally speaking, the relationship needs to be a "conjugal relationship", i.e. it needs to resemble a married couple's relationship. Some indicators include commitment to one another; sleeping in the same bed; having sexual relations; communicating "on a personal level"; sharing meals and household duties; providing financial support or combining finances; and presenting yourselves to others as a committed couple.
Another important point is that the required length of time can, in some circumstances, be longer or shorter than three years. Again, it depends on why you're asking.
In family law, the usual answer is three years because that is how long you need to be in a common-law relationship in order to make a claim for spousal support (unless you have children together, in which case there is no minimum timeframe for becoming eligible for spousal support). However, when it comes to dividing property, there is no length of time that will give you the same rights as a married couple. In New Brunswick, common-law couples do not, by default, split all property equally when they separate.
Other examples of when the required length of time may vary are:
- Filing your personal income tax—CRA says you're common-law after just one year.
- Making a claim for benefits under your significant other's insurance policy, or under your own policy on their behalf—Whether the insurance policy covers a common-law partner, and who qualifies as a common-law partner, depends on the wording in the policy.
- Making a claim against an estate, such as where your common-law partner has died without a will—This can be a complex issue necessitating the advice of an estates lawyer.
For advice on common-law status in New Brunswick and other family law issues, contact one of our New Brunswick family law lawyers.