Canadian society represents a rainbow spectrum where relationships are concerned. People are free to choose their mode of being together as married heterosexual/same-sex couples, cohabitants, Adult Inter-dependents, common-law spouses, LAT (living apart together) couples etc.
While these arrangements are socially acceptable and preferred, there may be legal difficulties when/if the relationship ends. An experienced family lawyer or separation lawyer can provide the right information about your responsibilities, and assistance and advice to safeguard your rights.
Marriage is a legally binding partnership that can only be dissolved legally. Being married in Ontario means:
- Opposite/Same sex couple above 18 or with written permission from parents if above 16
- Legal marriage ceremony by judge, justice of the peace, licensed member of clergy
- Polygamy permitted only in countries where it is legal
- Ending of marriage only through legal means
- Certain classes like siblings/half-siblings not permitted to marry
- Marriage is voluntary
Cohabitation: Information and Issues
A couple may wish to live together instead of or before getting married. Cohabitation or what was earlier known as a “live-in” relationship is on the rise in Canada according to the 2011 census. Nearly 11% of Canadian women are in a cohabitation arrangement with a common-law partner. Although such relationships are assumed to be the preference of younger populations, statistics reveal that such arrangements are being opted-for increasingly by older women.
The arrangements are made by the couple and reflect their personal choices, attitudes and personality. Some provinces allow legal registration of such relationships as “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” which may provide certain rights under the law. If the relationship lasts for a certain amount of time, is a marriage-like relationship where they live together, it is considered to be a common-law union. They may/may not have children together.
In Ontario couples are considered spouses if they:
- Depend on each other financially and emotionally
- Live together for a specified period
- Are in a steady, exclusive relationship
- Are still legally married to someone else
Rights and Responsibilities
Cohabitants have certain rights and responsibilities, whether they have children or not. Spouses who have lived together for a certain amount of time have to consider aspects like social assistance, income tax, spousal support, property division, child support, immigration sponsorship, Canada Pension Plan etc so that they can protect their individual interests.
Couples who live together get less assistance benefits when they’re together than they would as single persons. There are different rules regarding Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, which differentiate between amounts that single persons and spouses receive. When you move in with someone, these agencies should be informed, otherwise benefits can be cut off, even if it’s not a sexual or romantic relationship.
Tax calculations are based on combined incomes of the couple. Low-income couples qualify for fewer tax credits than each would get if they were single.
Cohabitants should also be aware of their rights and duties if they’re acting as immigration sponsors.
It’s important to be aware of your rights, duties, responsibilities when entering into a new relationship. All these aspects can be best explained and clarified with the assistance of a knowledgeable, experienced family lawyer.