Marriage Versus Common Law in Ontario – What’s the Difference?

When it comes to romantic partnerships in Ontario, understanding the legal distinctions between marriage and common-law relationships is crucial. Both types of unions can have significant implications for your rights and responsibilities. Let’s explore the key differences and what they mean for couples in Ontario.

Defining Marriage and Common-Law Relationships

Marriage is a legally recognized union between two individuals. It requires a formal ceremony and registration with the government. Marriage in Ontario is governed by both federal and provincial laws, including the Marriage Act and the Divorce Act.

Common-law relationships, on the other hand, do not require a ceremony or registration. A couple is considered to be in a common-law relationship if they have been living together in a conjugal relationship for a certain period. In Ontario, this period is generally three years, or less if they have a child together.

Legal Recognition and Documentation

Marriage Versus Common Law Difference
  • Marriage: To be legally married, a couple must obtain a marriage license, have a wedding ceremony performed by an authorized officiant, and then register the marriage with the government. The marriage certificate serves as legal proof of the union.
  • Common-law: No official documentation is required to enter a common-law relationship. Instead, the status is determined by the length and nature of the relationship. Proof of a common-law relationship might include shared leases or property, joint bank accounts, and affidavits from friends or family.

Property Rights

  • Married couple: In the event of a divorce, Ontario’s Family Law Act ensures an equal division of property acquired during the marriage. Each spouse is entitled to an equal share of the net family property, subject to certain exceptions.
  • Common-law couples: There is no automatic right to an equal division of property for common-law partners. Instead, property division relies on ownership and contributions. A common-law partner may need to prove unjust enrichment or a joint family venture to claim a share of the property.

Spousal Support

Both married and common-law partners can claim spousal support in Ontario. The entitlement and amount are determined by factors such as the length of the relationship, the roles each partner played, and their financial situations post-separation.

  • Married couples: Spousal support claims are typically addressed during divorce proceedings.
  • Common-law couples: A common-law partner must apply for spousal support within two years of the relationship ending unless there are exceptional circumstances.
    Inheritance and Estate Rights
  • Married couples: If a spouse dies without a will, the surviving spouse has a right to inherit a portion or all of the deceased spouse’s estate under Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act.
  • Common-law couples: Common-law partners do not have the same automatic inheritance rights. If one partner dies without a will, the surviving partner may need to claim the estate to receive a share, which can be a complicated and uncertain process.

Health and Pension Benefits

  • Married couples: Spouses are typically eligible for each other’s health and pension benefits, including survivor benefits.
  • Common-law couples: Eligibility for benefits varies by employer and pension plan. Some plans recognize common-law partners if certain criteria are met, but it’s essential to check specific policies.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Parental rights and responsibilities in Ontario are based on the best interests of the child, regardless of the parent’s marital status. Both married and common-law parents have the same rights and responsibilities towards their children, including custody, access, and child support.

While both marriage and common-law relationships in Ontario offer ways to formalize a partnership, they come with different legal implications. Marriage provides more straightforward legal protections, especially concerning property division and inheritance. Common-law relationships, although recognized, require careful consideration and potentially more legal work to establish similar rights.

Understanding these differences can help couples make informed decisions about their relationships and ensure they are prepared for the legal aspects of their union, whether they choose marriage or a common-law arrangement.

For expert advice on marriage versus common-law relationships in Ontario, trust J.N. Mukongolo Family Lawyers in Toronto. As experienced divorce lawyers in Toronto, we provide comprehensive legal guidance to help you navigate the complexities of your relationship status. Contact us at (647) 660-9832 for a consultation today.