What is a Common Law Marriage in Alberta?

In Alberta, there is no such thing as a “common law marriage”.  However, people—sometimes even lawyers—casually use the phrase to refer to a situation where an unmarried couple lives together in a relationship of interdependence.  Such “common law spouses” have many of the same legal rights as do formally married couples.

The legal formation of “common law marriages” is governed by the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act.  The Act provides that a person may be construed as an “adult interdependent partner” (common law spouse) if they meet the following criteria:

  1. The couple lives together in a “relationship of interdependence” for a continuous period of at least 3 years—or of “some permanence” if the couple has a child together.
  2. Both partners are at least 16 years of age.

Couples can also sign an agreement saying that they are adult interdependent partners.

This is very different for married couples, who only need to apply for and obtain a marriage license, and participate in a legal marriage ceremony.

Who are Considered Adult Interdependent Partners?

Typically, “spouses” in a common law marriage—adult interdependent partners—are:

  • Conjugal (the couple is romantically involved).
  • Financially interconnected (the couple may share bank accounts or rent).
  • Have a child together.

Generally, none of the above criteria on their own is enough to satisfy the legal test.  Instead, the court will look at the couple’s entire family situation before it decides whether couples are adult interdependent partners.

It is important to note that certain people will be prohibited from being classified as adult interdependent partners, for example: people who are related by blood or through adoption (brothers & sisters), if the relationship is “platonic” (roommates), if the relationship has a business element (such as a live-in nurse or housekeeper), or if one of the partners is married to someone else.

What are the Rights of a Common Law Spouse in Alberta?

Adult interdependent partners (common law spouses) have many of the same rights as married spouses.

The breakdown of adult interdependent relationships is governed by the Alberta Family Law Act and Family Property Act.

The Family Law Act gives unmarried spouses a legal framework for applying for parenting, child support, and partner support orders.

The Family Property Act allows many adult interdependent partners to apply for an equal division of family property—that means that common law spouses have property rights just like married couples.  In order to qualify, the partners need to have cohabited (lived together) in a relationship of interdependence for at least 3 years, and have separated after January 1, 2020.

Common law spouses may also have property rights even if they are not technically adult interdependence spouses, under the common law of unjust enrichment.  In this case, the spouse would have to prove three things in court:

  1. Their spouse was enriched, or benefited, from their input during the relationship.  For example, they worked as a stay-at-home caregiver for the children.
  2. The spouse applying for unjust enrichment was correspondingly deprived.  For example, they were unable to find employment because of their caregiving role.
  3. There was no “juristic reason” for this deprivation.  In other words, there was no contract, court order, or other legal reason for the deprivation.

Ask a Lawyer about your Rights as a Common Law Spouse

Common law spouses in Alberta have many of the same rights as do married spouses.  It is important that you protect your legal rights when you are separating, because if you wait too long, you may be unable to pursue your rights at a later date.

Feel free to call us at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099 if you have any questions about your status as a common law spouse or adult interdependent partner—the first 30 minutes are free.

Although we are based in Edmonton, our family lawyers—and practicing mediators—are proud to serve much of northern Alberta, including the following communities:

  • Edmonton & Area – Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain.
  • North – Athabasca, Morinville, Westlock, Gibbons, Barrhead, Redwater, Peace River, High Level, Fort McMurray.
  • West – Drayton Valley, Edson, Hinton, Whitecourt, Devon.
  • South – Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Millet, Calmar.
  • East – Vegreville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Vermillion, Wainwright, Tofield.
Contact Morrison LLP Today