How Long Is Common Law in BC? - Zukerman Law

How Long Is Common Law in BC?

Living together, sharing finances, building a life – when does this become a “common-law” relationship in British Columbia? The answer might surprise you. While time plays a role, it’s only one piece of a bigger puzzle. In this blog, we’ll delve beyond the “two-year rule” and explore what defines a common-law relationship in BC, empowering you to understand your rights and responsibilities clearly.

How Long Is Common Law in BC 2024

How Long Is Common Law in BC 2024?

Within the legal framework of British Columbia’s Family Law Act, the designation of “spouse” extends beyond the traditional bounds of marriage. Individuals cohabiting in a “marriage-like relationship” can also acquire spousal status, unlocking specific rights and responsibilities. The key, however, lies in understanding the unique criteria associated with this designation.

For property division matters, cohabitation in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years is essential. This establishes a presumptive shared ownership of assets and debts acquired during cohabitation, providing a framework for equitable distribution upon separation. However, the threshold for spousal support eligibility differs. If a child is born to a cohabiting couple, even if their “marriage-like relationship” falls short of two years, the individual seeking support may still qualify, acknowledging the additional responsibilities and potential financial strain from parenthood.

It’s crucial to remember that the legal significance of a “marriage-like relationship” hinges on more than simply cohabiting for a specific timeframe. Courts in British Columbia prioritize the relationship’s objective characteristics, scrutinizing shared finances, domestic responsibilities, and public presentation as a couple. Ultimately, establishing common-law status requires exceeding the mere passage of time and demonstrating a genuine, intertwined life partnership.

What Is a Common-Law Spouse Entitled to in BC?

What Is a Common-Law Spouse Entitled to in BC?

Now you know how long common law is in BC. Let’s see what you are entitled to in a common-law relationship in BC.

In British Columbia, individuals living in a “marriage-like” relationship for at least two years (or one year if they have a child together) are considered common-law spouses and granted similar legal rights and responsibilities as married couples. Understanding these entitlements is crucial for navigating both everyday life and potential separation.

Property Division

Upon separation, common-law partners have equal rights to property acquired during the relationship, regardless of whose name it’s in. This includes family homes, cars, boats, bank accounts, and investments.

However, pre-existing assets (owned before the relationship began) generally remain separate, with some exceptions based on contributions made during the relationship.

Unlike married couples in BC, common-law partners don’t automatically benefit from the “equalization of net family property” under the Family Law Act. This means dividing property can be more complex and require legal guidance.

Spousal Support

Depending on factors like financial need, length of the relationship, and childcare responsibilities, either partner may be eligible for spousal support upon separation.

Courts consider various factors when determining spousal support, including income, contributions made during the relationship, and future earning capacity.

Seeking legal advice is crucial to understand individual eligibility and potential support amounts.

Child Support

Both biological and non-biological parents in common-law relationships have legal obligations to support their children financially.
Child support calculations follow provincial guidelines based on parental income and custody arrangements.
Legal guidance can ensure child support arrangements are fair and comply with provincial regulations.

It’s important to understand that cohabitation agreements, sometimes called “no common-law” agreements, have limited legal weight in BC. Courts primarily assess the characteristics of the relationship to determine common-law status.

Remember: Knowledge is power. Understanding your entitlements as a common-law spouse empowers you to make informed decisions and confidently navigate your relationship journey.

Can you live together and not be common-law?

Can you live together and not be common-law?

While cohabitation often leads to common-law status in British Columbia, sharing a living space without triggering this designation is possible. 

Sharing rent or a mortgage doesn’t automatically make you a common-law spouse. The crucial factor lies in your relationship.

Also, if you’ve been living with your partner for less than two years and have no children together, you’re unlikely to be recognized as common law.

Keys to Avoiding Common-Law:

  • Maintain separate finances: Keep accounts, bills, and significant purchases distinct.
  • Avoid presenting yourselves as a couple: Don’t introduce each other as “partners” or engage in public displays of affection typically associated with romantic relationships.
  • Have precise living arrangements: Maintain separate bedrooms or areas within the shared space.

Remember: Intention plays a role. If you consciously avoid a common-law relationship and take concrete steps to demonstrate that intention, you can lessen the likelihood of this status being applied.

Final Remarks:

Seeking legal advice early in a common-law relationship or before separation can help clarify rights and responsibilities, potentially saving time, money, and emotional stress in the long run.
Contact Zukerman Law today for a confidential consultation and discuss your rights and responsibilities as a common-law spouse in British Columbia.


Stuart Zukerman

Stuart Zukerman, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, has over 32 years of experience in litigation with a focus on Family Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Dismissal claims, and Collaborative Divorce & Mediation. He has extensive trial experience in divorce, child custody, spousal support, asset division, and ICBC injury claims. As an accredited Family Law Mediator, he helps resolve disputes without court intervention. Stuart has also authored papers on family law and lectured at CLE courses.