Skip to content

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Five things you should know about common law relationships



Wednesday’s Video Clip: Five things you should know about common law relationships

Simply put, a common law relationship can arise any time two parties are living together without being formally married. The following is a brief list of the most important legal issues that arise under the Ontario law in connection with support and property issues in these types of relationships.

1. To be considered a common law couple, you and your partner must live together in a “marriage-like” relationship.

This can include partners of the opposite sex, or of the same sex. There are no legal formalities, and no requirement that the parties undergo any sort of ceremony or process to formalize their arrangement.

2. You must have lived together continuously for three years to be considered common-law in Ontario.  However, the exception to this is if you and your partner have a child together and are in a “relationship of some permanence”.  If you meet this definition, you will still be considered Common-Law, even if you have not lived together for 3 years.

There are many factors that courts may consider when determining this aspect of the definition. In general, courts will consider the couple’s lifestyle, including shared accommodation, personal and sexual habits, social interaction, financial support for each other and for any children, and how the couple is perceived by society or the public. Furthermore, while there is a requirement that the partners must live together “continuously” for three years, temporary break-ups without a settled intention to end the relationship will usually not interrupt the continuity of the relationship for these purposes.

3. You can enter into a cohabitation agreement, just like legally-married couples.

Partners in a common law relationship are entitled to enter into a cohabitation agreement as a means of protecting their property rights, or to settle upon financial obligations such as support, or to determine what rights each party would have upon separation. However – as with domestic contracts generally – any such agreement cannot include matters pertaining to access to or custody of children.

4. You may still have certain rights in connection with your partner’s property.

Ideally, if common-law spouses decide to separate, they can amicably decide which of them should have primary custody of the child, and how access arrangements are going to be structured. Any minor disputes about the scope or range of decision-making, or the nature, extent and scheduling of access, can be worked out with the assistance of a family law mediator.

However, if the common-law partners cannot agree, then a judge may have to make a binding decision that will settle any outstanding matters. As with children of parents who are formally married to each other, the governing principle to be applied to these decisions is always the best interests of the child.

5) Can a common-law couple adopt a child?

In Ontario, common-law spouses have the same rights as married spouses to adopt a child; they are also subject to the exact same requirements. These include the requirement that they have both reached the age of 18, that they provide certain documents, for example, medical reports, police clearance reports, letters of reference, and financial statements, and that they participate in both a home study process and an education program. The home study may be completed either privately, or by a Children’s Aid social worker.

We hope you have found this video helpful.  If you require further information about children of common-law relationships please give us a call or visit our website at