Free union against marriage: What are my legal rights? – National



More Canadians than ever are entering a common-law union.

About one-fifth of Canadians are in a common-law relationship, a three-fold increase from 1981, according to 2016 data from Statistics Canada.

The type of relationship arrangements in the country have changed dramatically over the past decades, with marriage rates declining and separations or divorces becoming more common, StatsCan reported in 2019.


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In Canada, what is defined as a common-law relationship varies from province to province, but it usually means two people living together for the long term and sharing finances or assets.

The cost of a lavish wedding can interfere with other goals like home ownership and having children that’s why 38-year-old Sonya Mehta and her partner decided to do these two things first.

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Mehta and her partner have been together for nine years and share a two-month-old baby.

“We had different priorities, we started later in life in terms of relationships… and we thought, why spend that money on a big wedding? Said Mehta, who lives in Waterloo, Ont. “It wasn’t a good time, so we got a house, a new car and started our family.”

Marriage is not ruled out for Mehta – but they wanted to focus their finances on early in life first, she said.

“What is marriage? It’s a piece of paper that says you’re together forever. We have a child, we have a house, we have a family, we are together every day. Do we need a piece of paper to tell us?

Marital relations are changing

Societal changes over the past few decades have caused many to question the institution of marriage, especially since divorce is so common, said Laurie Pawlitza, a Toronto-based family law lawyer.

“People are just less in love with the institution, and some people are of the opinion that: I don’t have to wait for what a wedding is,” Pawlitza said. “A lot of people also feel overwhelmed with what a wedding is supposed to look like.”

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These financial barriers, especially for millennials, can be a reason to invest in property and delay a marriage, according to a previous Business Insider report.


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Some may walk away from marriage or delay marriage because there is no need to start sex or raise children, said Sinikka Elliott, associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia.

“Marriage has become deinstitutionalized, so it’s not the only institution available to establish a committed relationship,” Elliott said. “It’s not the only road… but it still has a highly symbolic role in North America; it is often related to religion.

The declining importance of religion in public life and the increased secularization of Canadians is another reason common law relationships may be more popular, she explained.

Setting gender norms associated with heterosexual relationships and traditional marriage may also be something some want to avoid, she said.

When more legal options are available other than marriage, people seem to take them, Elliott said.

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How common-law relationships are not the same as marriage in Alberta

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“Research shows that countries that create an alternative to marriage that has rights or benefits similar or equal to marriage, people often opt for that,” she said.

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For example, in Norway, couples are more likely to have children before marriage and generally marry later in life. But there are more legal protections in place for those who do. – as legally, they are granted joint parental responsibility, as a married couple, according to Norwegian law.

A 2013 article revealed that marriage in Scandinavia was more about personal preference than the only option with legal protections.

According to a 2018 poll by Angus Reid, 59% of Canadians said those who marry legally should not receive additional tax benefits that are not available to common-law couples. Additionally, 58% said common-law relationships should be treated the same as marriages.


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Depending on where you live in Canada, your legal protections may be limited in a common-law relationship, especially when determining the division of assets if you separate, Pawlitza said. And that can make the common law less advantageous, just from a financial standpoint, she explained.

“It is not certain that you are of common law. Spousal support rights and child support rights are clearer, but property rights… are often very vague, ”she said.

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In Ontario, a common-law relationship allows partners to claim spousal support, but not property. Quebec has the highest common-law union rate in Canada at almost 40 percent, but the province does not grant these couples the same rights as married couples.

Only British Columbia is seen as fairer to common-law couples, offering the same rights to these partners as to married couples after living together for two years.

Often times if you want to claim property from your partner that you may have helped buy, you have to prove it, and it can be hard to say what you might be entitled to, Pawlitza said.

Automatic rules that apply to property if you’re in a common-law relationship would be helpful in provinces that don’t have this setup, like Ontario, she said. Currently, the guidelines are discretionary and often difficult to interpret, she added.

“It’s so that everyone is kind of on an equal footing,” she said. “I think people have a hard time figuring out what I’m really entitled to if you’re in a common-law relationship and separate.”

Breakups are painful regardless of marital status – and it’s not something you can avoid just because you’re not legally married, she said.

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If Quebec has few legal protections, why is the common law so popular?

According to 2016 data, nearly 40 percent of Quebec couples were living common-law, which is higher than couples in Sweden and Finland, said Hélène Belleau, professor at the National Institute of Scientific Research of Montreal.

In 2015, Belleau surveyed thousands of couples across Quebec to determine why they might prefer common-law relationships.

Misinformation about the rights they have in common-law relationships is one reason some Quebecers choose not to marry, she explained.

“When they say they don’t want to get married, often they [believe] it is the same to be married or to be in a common-law relationship, ”which is not correct, says Belleau.

She says that the government of Quebec sometimes gives the impression through social policies and tax law that your legal rights are the same if you are in a common-law relationship, which creates confusion.


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“On the other side, we have the civil code, and in this, only married couples have a legal framework,” she said. “When a common-law relationship separates… even if they have children and share their expenses, when they separate, they are considered strangers. “

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Culturally in Quebec, common-law unions are socially accepted and many do not even know if a couple is married or not, she explained.

Often times, women do not change their names when they get married, and even in the language, they use words that refer to their partner in a way that means they are living in a common-law relationship, even if they are married. , said Belleau. .

“They reject the traditional view of gender relations, that’s one of the main reasons,” she said.

Quebec did not legalize divorce until 1968, and some associate marriage with men with property and women with economic hardship as a result, she explained.

But the myth surrounding common-law unions in Quebec and other provinces is that it’s legally similar to traditional marriage, that it’s a problem, and that it can put couples in hot water if they don’t. do not know their rights, said Belleau.

“The main problem we have is that [many] say it’s the same from a legal point of view, ”she said. “There is no social network.”

While not a romantic prospect, 40 to 50 percent of all couples in Canada separate and being safe in your legal protections can make marriage a more stable option, a. said Pawlitza.

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“People think that one way or another with [common-law unions] there is less attachment, but I don’t think there is, ”she said.

“There are emotional upheavals if they separate, whether married or in a common-law relationship,” she added. “If people think they’re going to escape some of the drama, in my experience they wouldn’t.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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