Common Law Relationships and the New Family Law Act

The new Family Law Act Gives Property Rights to Common Law Spouses

Many people do not realize that under the current Family Relations Act, unmarried spouses do not have property rights. That will change when the new Family Law Act (FLA) comes into force on March 18, 2013. The new FLA treats unmarried spouses just like married spouses when it comes to dividing property and debt, with one important difference: separated, unmarried spouses have to make a claim for property and debt division within two years of the date they separated. Separated married spouses do not have time limitation.

[A spouse is someone who is married to another person, or who has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.]

The FLA says that separated, unmarried spouses have two years from the date of separation to bring an application for property and debt division. Since the FLA comes into effect on March 18, 2013, couples who separate less than two years before the Act comes into effect (so March 18, 2011) have to follow the new rules.

So what law will apply to you?

If you separated before March 18, 2011 but haven’t yet applied to divide property, you are not a spouse (at least for the purposes of property division) under either the old Family Relations Act or the new FLA.If you separated on or after March 18, 2011 but haven’t yet applied to divide property, then you are a spouse under the FLA. You can start a case now, under the existing rules, but once March 18, 2013 comes around, the new rules for dividing property will apply to you, and you will have to change your application to follow the new rules.In you separated on or after March 18, 2011 and you have already applied to divide property under the existing rules, you have until March 18, 2013 to resolve your case under the existing rules. After March 18, 2013, the new rules will apply to you.

What does this mean for you?

If you are an unmarried spouse and want to make a claim for a share of property owned by your spouse, you may want to wait until after the new FLA comes into effect.

But, if you are the unmarried spouse who is the property owner, it makes sense for you to resolve your case quickly, before the new law comes into effect, otherwise the new rules will apply to you.

Obviously, these are complicated issues, but one thing is clear: If your common law relationship is ending, or ended recently, you should seek the advice of an experienced family specialist.