In December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that the law does not have to treat common law spouses like a married couple when it comes to dividing most assets equally in a breakup. In an 8-1 decision the high court ruled that individuals who do not walk down the aisle make a free and deliberate choice not to assume the legal rights and obligations toward property that marriage brings. Many believe that after two or three years, the law treats them the same as married couples even without the marriage certificate. This is not correct and in case of breakup you should contact a family lawyer.

In a common-law relationship it is better to put in writing who owns what and when major purchases are made like buying a house or a car. It is not the same. When you’re common-law, it’s not the same as being married

Common-law partners who split still face the same spousal and child-support obligations as divorcing married couples, based on need and dependency, but property is a different matter, the court said.

The high court stressed its decision does not mean a common-law partner has no recourse, or can’t expect to ultimately get an equal share of the property. Common-law couples are free to draw up a contract at the outset if they want an equal division of property upon breakup, or a partner can sue an ex for a share of the wealth he or she contributed to.

Litigation can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on how bitterly contested the dispute is, thus it is better to sign contracts and to keep records of how much each contribute to major purchases during the relationship.

Most provinces — Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, as well as Yukon Territory — have laws that compel only married couples to split property 50-50. In Quebec, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia, couples can register a relationship, a civil union or sign an agreement to opt in to the 50-50 split. Only Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut automatically extend the presumption of equal asset division to common-law couples.

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