Legal Studies 1030

Section 1 - the Law and relationships

Lesson 3 - Common Law Relationships

In a common law relationship, two people live together but are not legally married. Many people believe that if you live with a partner for a certain length of time, you have a common law marriage and the same rights as married couples. This is not true. No amount of time together makes a common law relationship a legal marriage. To be legally separated, two people must have a recognized marriage. In a common law relationship, a divorce is not necessary to end a common law relationship, since the couple was never legally married.

Today's laws recognize "cohabitation" or common law relationships, as being similar to marriages. In all provinces and territories, if a couple lives together without the benefit of a legal marriage, they may have some rights under the law. A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract between common law partners who are cohabitating (living together) or plan to live together. It is the common law equivalent of a marriage contract. This agreement may be useful to couples who are not legally married and who want a process for dividing their property on separation or death.

Consider the following case study:
Case Study: Common Law and Support

Quebec Appeal Court hears "Lola" Alimony Case

(May 20, 2010 - CBC) Quebec's highest court is reviewing a high profile, $50-million dollar alimony case involving a former common law couple.

The Quebec Court of Appeal has taken the case of "Lola" and "Eric" under advisement and will consider a basic principle of civil rights at the heart of the dispute - whether people should be free to live together without automatically taking on the responsibilities of marriage.

Lola is seeing alimony after living with a man in a union that produced three children. They never married. Lola is an unmarried woman who wants her former partner, a wealthy Quebec businessman, to pay her monthly alimony in addition to child support he already provided for their three children.

Eric is arguing that he doesn't owe here anything beyond child support because Quebec law does not assume that people who live in common law actually prefer the responsibilities and benefits of marriage.

Eric and Lola lived together for seven years. When they split, Eric agreed to generous child support - but he rejected Lola's $50 million lump sum and annual $700,000 alimony settlement claim . He has told the court he doesn't believe in marriage.

Lola challenged Eric's refusal to pay on the grounds that it was discriminatory. She took her case to course as a challenge to Quebec's marriage laws, arguing the legislation in archaic because it doesn't protect common law relationships.

Her lawyers argued couples don't know when they move in together without marrying that they won't be able to make claims against their partners in the event of a break-up.
(For you to think about: Do you agree with her lawyer's argument in the last paragraph? Why or why not?).