Property rights of common-law couples after a separation

This article looks at the property rights of people in adult interdependent relationships in Alberta.

Adult Interdependent Relationships Act provides rights to common-law couples

Many Albertans understand that when a marriage ends in divorce that each former spouse typically has a right to a share of the couple's matrimonial property. For people that are in common-law relationships, however, dividing the property after a relationship ends is sometimes less than straightforward. According to the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta, common-law relationships are legally referred to as adult interdependent relationships and are covered by the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, which differs in many important ways from legislation covering common-law relationships both in other provinces and on the federal level.

Adult interdependent relationships

A couple is considered to be in an adult interdependent relationship if one of a number of conditions is met. Perhaps the simplest way of being in an adult interdependent relationship is by signing an Adult Interdependent Relationship Agreement. This agreement must meet certain legal requirements in order to be considered valid, however.

Alternatively, a couple is in an adult interdependent relationship if they have maintained an interdependent relationship for over three years or their relationship lasted for less than three years but they had a child together, whether through birth or adoption. Other factors may also be considered to determine whether two people are in an adult interdependent relationship. Unlike with federal laws covering common-law couples, an adult interdependent relationship may be platonic.

Property rights

Unlike in divorce, when an adult interdependent relationship ends both parties typically hold onto their own property and assets. There are important exceptions to this rule, however. Gifts given by one partner to the other, for example, typically stay with the recipient. Also, property that is held jointly cannot be sold by one party without the consent of the other party.

Courts will also consider dividing property between both parties if not doing so would clearly be unfair to one party. Property, for example, may be in only one party's name, but if the property is treated as though it were shared (either through a formal agreement or in how each party treated the property) then that property may be divided. Likewise, if, for example, one party in the relationship was responsible for maintaining an income and contributing financially while the other party was responsible for child rearing or housekeeping, then the court will consider the non-financial contributions made by the latter party.

Family law

The above gives just a brief idea of the rights and benefits afforded to people in adult interdependent relationships in Alberta. For a more thorough understanding of how one's own relationship may be affected by both provincial and federal laws, it is important to talk directly with a qualified family lawyer.

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