How to Prove a Common Law Relationship in Alberta
The rights and obligations of people in a common law relationship in Alberta differ from those of married couples. In some situations, proving you are or were in a common law relationship is crucial to protecting your rights. For example, after a separation, your legal relationship status will dictate the division of property.
In this post, we’ll look at how Alberta defines common law relationships, the differences between common law and marriage, and how to prove a common law relationship.
What is a common law relationship in Alberta?
Alberta law does not use the term “common law relationship”. Instead, provincial law refers to this type of relationship as an “adult interdependent relationship”. A couple is legally in an adult interdependent relationship when:
- Both individuals have lived together for three or more years;
- Both individuals have lived together with some level of permanence, such as having a child together; or
- Both individuals have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement.
Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Relationships Act describes an adult interdependent relationship as “a relationship outside marriage in which any 2 persons:
- Share one another’s lives,
- Are emotionally committed to one another, and
- Functions as an economic and domestic unit.”
Adult interdependent partners do not have to be sexually involved with each other. The relationship can be platonic (between friends or relatives). Also, an adult interdependent couple does not have to live together.
What are my rights in a common law relationship?
Alberta’s Family Property Act applies to both married couples and adult interdependent relationships. The rights and obligations of adult interdependent partners are similar to—and sometimes the same as—those of married couples.
The division of property after separation is the same for adult interdependent partners as for married couples.
Under the Alberta Wills and Succession Act, an adult interdependent partner is considered a dependent and has a right to the same inheritance as a spouse when their partner dies. The exception is that an adult interdependent partner does not have dower rights.
What’s the difference between common law and marriage?
Even though Alberta law treats adult interdependent relationships similar to marriage, there are some differences.
- Age: Adult interdependent partners must be 16 years old or older, but married spouses must be 18 years old or older, or if between the ages of 16-18, must have consent from a legal guardian.
- Relation: Adult interdependent partners can be related to one another (though they must wait till they’re 18 years old to enter an Adult Interdependent Partnership Agreement in this case), but married spouses cannot be closely related to each other.
- Property: Upon separation of an adult interdependent relationship, property is divided in a way that’s fair under the circumstances. Upon a marriage separation or divorce, nearly all property obtained during the marriage is divided equally between the spouses.
- Surnames: An adult interdependent partner may not apply to legally change their surname to that of their partner. In a marriage, a surname change is legal.
To be legally married, a couple must apply for and obtain a marriage license, then go through a legal ceremony. But, as stated above, to be legally recognized as an adult interdependent relationship,
- Both individuals must live together for three or more years; or
- Both individuals must live together with some level of permanence, such as having a child together; or
- Both individuals must sign an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement.
How can I prove a common law relationship?
It may be necessary to prove a common law relationship—called an adult interdependent relationship in Alberta—for the division of property after separation or after the death of a partner. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act states that all aspects of a relationship will be considered to determine the nature of the relationship. Here are some of those factors:
- Is the relationship sexual?
- Is the relationship exclusive? In other words, are the partners committed exclusively to each other?
- How does the couple handle living arrangements and household responsibilities?
- Does the couple present themselves to others as an economic and domestic unit?
- Has the couple entered an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement?
- Have the partners made provision for each other in their wills?
- Has the couple made financial contributions to each other for their well-being, such as using joint bank accounts or providing health benefits?
- Are the partners financially dependent on each other?
- Does the couple have, care for, and support any children?
- Does the couple own property together?
These factors are not requirements, but help to give a judge a clear picture of the nature of the relationship.
To prove an adult interdependent relationship, the following items can be useful:
- Documentation showing shared ownership of residential property
- Joint leases or rental agreements
- Bills for shared utility accounts
- Driver’s licenses or insurance policies showing both partners have the same home address
- A formal Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement
Adult Interdependent Partner Agreements
An Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement is not the same as a cohabitation agreement. It is a formal document that states that the partners agree to be in an adult interdependent relationship. It must include the following information:
- The names and addresses of both partners
- A statement showing that both partners understand their rights and obligations as an adult interdependent partner under Alberta law
- Declarations stating that both partners are 16 years old or older, are unmarried, have not signed another Adult Interdependent Agreement, and are living together or intend to live together in a relationship of interdependence
- A clause that makes the Agreement void if the relationship ends
- The date of the Agreement
- Signatures of both partners and two witnesses (along with their names and addresses) for each partner
- Signed consent by a legal guardian of any 16- or 17-year-old partner
To see the regulations for the format of an Adult Interdependent Relationship Agreement, refer to Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation.
Legal Help for Common Law Relationships
To ensure the rights of both partners are fully understood and protected, we recommend drafting a will, an enduring power of attorney, personal directives, a cohabitation agreement, or an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement.
The experienced family law attorneys at Osuji & Smith can help you understand the value of each document, draft these documents for you, and assist you in proving your common law relationship.