What is a Common Law Marriage?

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.

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.

Who are Considered Adult Interdependent Partners?

Typically, “spouses” in a common law relationship—adult interdependent partners—are conjugal (the couple is romantically involved), financially interconnected (the couple may share bank accounts or rent), and have children together.  None of these criteria alone is typically 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), or if the relationship has a business element (such as a live-in nurse or housekeeper).

Do Adult Interdependent Partners (Common Law Spouses) Have Legal Rights?

Yes.  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 some unmarried spouses to apply for an equal division of family property.  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.

Ask a Lawyer about your Rights as a Common Law Spouse

We hope you found this legal information helpful.  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.
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