Is there a difference between the rights of married spouses and spouses who live common-law?

Custody, child support and access to the children all are treated identical as to couples that were married, but the division of property and spousal support will be different.

Common-law spouses do not have the same property rights as married spouses, who are presumed to share the proceeds of all of the assets accumulated over the course of a marriage. In general, common-law spouses do not share property unless there is joint ownership or one spouse has made a substantial contribution in the form of either effort or money, to an asset owned by the other spouse.

How do we divide our property?

If you have been cohabitating for a significant amount of time, identifying which item belongs to who can be difficult or impossible; generally:

  • Items purchased during the relationship belong to the person who paid for them
  • Items purchased jointly will usually be divided
Niagara Mediation - Common Law

Common law couples are not legally required to split real property (i.e. house) acquired when they lived together, nor do they have the right to split an increase in value of the property they brought with them to the relationship. In short, if party A moves into party B’s home and lives there for ten years before a separation, party A does not generally have a legal right to any share of the home. However, if party A contributed to the property party B owns, party A may have a right to part of it. Proving the value and identifying a fair amount is a difficult task.

Will I owe/pay Spousal Support?

Common-law couples are entitled to spousal support after having lived together for three years, or if they have a child together, as long as the relationship was of some permanence. See the Spousal Support tab for more information.